THUMBNAIL_IMAGEWelcome to the Great Marketing Push of 2014. A few friends and I are going to try out the marketing strategies outlined in several books, and report on the results. Writer Beth Whittenbury (author of Just Love Him, I Guess, which I love) is also blogging about her progress, and you can follow her here.

This week, we are focusing on Amazon, but I want to say a few words about Goodreads first, because I just finished a giveaway there.

goodreadsI’ve heard that people need to see a product 3-5 times before it sinks in. Goodreads provides a couple of great ways to get your book in front of readers until it sticks:

A Book Giveaway

This is my favorite, because it’s almost free. You set up a giveaway through your author dashboard: look under the Explore tab for Giveaways. You set the dates and the number of books to offer. At the end of the contest, your only expense is the actual books you sign, and the $2 or $3 in postage.

A Paid Promotion

For as little as $90 (which is billed to a credit card at the beginning) you set up ads, and pay each time someone clicks on the ad to see more information about your book. You decide how big the ad is (a bigger ad costs a bit more per click), and you can create several ads. One might appear whenever someone searches for a certain genre; another might appear whenever someone searches for certain authors. For example, if you’ve written an epic fantasy you might select Fantasy as a genre, then do another ad that will appear whenever someone searches for Tolkien or George R.R. Martin. The promotion lasts as long as there’s money left.

attachmentMy Results

A giveaway for Death Speaker: A Novel of Ancient Gaul ran a year ago, and I think I’ll do another giveaway now. I cannot know how many people bought the book, but I do know that at least 300 saw it. Currently, 120 people have Death Speaker on their to-read list.

I also ran a promotion for Death Speaker, but I can’t say that I saw any spike in sales over the many months that it ran. I’m assured that it’s fairly normal for a promotion to go on for months. A lot of people click through during the first couple of weeks, then interest dies down.

I just wrapped up a giveaway for The Boomer Book of Christmas Memories; 500 people entered it. 215 have it on their to-read list.

On to Amazon!

I’m using two books: Lets Get Visible, by David Gaughran and Why Does My Book Not Sell, by Rayne Hall. So far, I’m pretty much in the theory section of Gaughran’s section on Amazon, rather than the practicum. I have learned that sales ranks are based solely on sales, and Top Rated lists are based on reviews/stars–but you have to meet a minimum number of reviews to qualify.

I also learned that corporate publishers get to put their books in more categories than indies (5 v. 2), which clears up a mystery I’ve wondered about. Gaughram advises studying categories and switching them judiciously to take advantage of openings. I would definitely need some practice there.

Hall’s book does not have a section on Amazon, per se, so I can’t compare. I did flip to the chapter on book reviews and read that I should ask my Beta readers for reviews, and using social media to offer a free book to anyone who will post a review. And don’t buy or trade reviews, which is good advice. Don’t get fake reviews, and don’t respond to reviews. Both books advise putting a page at the end of your ebook/book asking readers to leave reviews, pretty please, but I was hoping for a little more advice.

Maybe I should go read over Beth’s shoulder.

So you signed your book up for Amazon’s KDP, and now you want to schedule a free giveaway. Yes, you do want to give it away, and here are a few reasons for doing so:

First, to increase the book’s sales ranking, if only temporarily. There are people who will download any free book, and that’s OK. These people wouldn’t buy your book anyway, so you lose nothing. But the sales can boost your book’s ranking in different categories. If your book goes to #1 in any category, you can always claim that it was an Amazon Best Seller. Look at the bottom of this graphic–my book was Number 1 in two–count ’em, two!–categories.

No1-PopCult-and-Toys cropped

And yes, that means you may spend a few hours refreshing your screen and watching the rankings on your book’s Amazon page, ready to do a screen-cap when it hits Number 1. But it’s worth it.

Second, to build buzz and get attention.  All attention is good. Every set of eyes that sees your book title belongs to a potential reader. Each reader has friends. Millions of readers have Goodreads accounts. Those accounts mention what book that reader is reading-often on the reader’s Facebook page, so all their friends and family see it. The reader might post reviews, which drive sales. All good.

Third, the free books can reinforce a Goodreads or Google ad campaign. I’ve heard that people need to see something at least three times before it clicks in their mind, so anything that puts Your Book Title in front of folks is good.

How do you let people know about the KDP giveaway?

Amazon will do some promotion, but your book will be only one of hundreds they mention. You must help spread the word. There are organizations that let their members know, every day, what books are being offered for free. Most charge nothing to include your book in their announcements.

The list I used was titled “15 Places to Promote Your Book for Free” and it came from MediaBistro’s Galley Cat. It was published in August 2013 but by the time I used it in early December, the list’s #1 and 2 sites had already disappeared. IOW: any list is just a starting point, not a carved-in-stone guide. I’ll share that #5 on the list (Digital Books Today) requires that your book have at least 18 reviews, and #10 (Free Kindle Books & Tips) says it must have an average of 4-5 stars.

Just by going to the sites on that first list, I found other sites that do the same thing. Some of them need advanced notice to promote your book, so don’t wait till the last minute unless they tell you to. One–Snicks List–wants you to contact them on the first day of the promotion.

Other sites I found had names like EReader Girl, Free & Discounted Books, Free Booksy, Indie Booster, Book Goodies, Free Book Dude, and eReader Cafe. You’ll have to look up the links, but the names will get you started.

Of course, you’ll also do all the following. INCLUDE A LINK to your eBook’s Amazon page in all these mentions and posts:

  • Talk up the KDP promotion on your blog (you have one, right?)
  • Mention it on your book’s Facebook page (it has one, right?)
  • Share the promotion on your author Facebook page (you have –etc.)
  • Tell all your friends and family members, especially the ones who hoped for a free book from you
  • Post about the free book on the “Promotions” tab of any LinkedIn groups you belong to
  • Tweet about the promotion before and during it
  • Post or email announcement to all members of your critique group–for that matter, to any writers’ group you belong to, either physcially or online, through Yahoo Groups or Gmail, etc.
  • If anyone gave you pictures, information, or endorsements that you used in the book, let them know that they can get a copy free. This, especially, could result in future sales as they tell all their friends, “Look–I’m in a book!”
  • If you are running an ad on Goodreads, it’s very easy to edit the ad and show the promotion dates. Just remember to change the ad back after the giveaway is done.

It’s a big list, but most of the items take only minutes. Once you’ve composed an email or announcement that you like, just copy and paste it for other venues.

In addition to all this, think of groups of potential readers that you’d want to reach. What sites do they visit? Here are examples for my two books, a historical novel and a non-fiction trivia collection for Baby Boomers.

  • For Death Speaker(the historical novel) I wrote to the administrators of a UK-based, very popular blog and podshow focused on Celtic culture. I asked them to mention the free giveaway on their FB page and blog. They did–and I should mention that I’d written them before and sent them a review copy of the book, so this request wasn’t out of the blue. Bottom line: I had over 120 downloads from the UK–and later, a few sales.
  • For The Boomer Book of Christmas Memories I posted a note about the free eBook dates on every Baby Boomer-oriented site I could think of, including my high school reunion site and several FB pages for local Boomers who talked about the “good ol’ days.” Since I was contributing and commenting on all the pages before the promotion, my mentions were fine. (But please note that no group wants people to become members just to promote and sell their products.)

Every author has a different book, so it’s up to you to think of ways to promote it. That’s another topic in itself. However, now you know the basics of how I got the word out about my KDP freebie. For the record, over 1200 people downloaded a copy of Death Speaker, and over 500 downloaded The Boomer Book of Christmas Memories.

02. September 2013 · Comments Off on Share Day: Advice on Cover Letters, Getting Things Done, & More · Categories: About Writing, Reading · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Time to share some of the very helpful stuff I’ve been reading lately.

First up : advice on how to write a cover letter, from Slate Editor Katherine Goldstein.

Why should you care about that? Because it’s basically good advice about how to write anything, including pitches and  queries.

DrsOfficeTake her first point:

Focus on the cover letter. It is not uncommon for me to get 100 applications for one spot, so I’m constantly looking for reasons not to advance a candidate to the interview round. Writing a good cover letter is your best shot at getting noticed. If I hate a cover letter, I won’t even look at the résumé.

Replace cover letter  with query. Replace  résumé with clips. Do you get a sense of an editor wading through 100 other pitches who want the one spot in the magazine?

Second point:

Keep it short. I started putting word limits on cover letters because I couldn’t stand, nor did I have the time to read, the epically long letters I’d receive. I’m going to give your letter maybe 30 seconds of my time. If you are interested in a job in journalism, you should be able to tell me about yourself and why I should hire you in less than 200 words.

Again, replace cover letter  with query, and read that last sentence as: If you are interested in placing an article, you should be able to tell me about it and why I should hire you in less than 200 words.

You can skip over the advice geared to college students (unless, of course, you are a college student) but the rest is golden–especially the “following instructions” part.

Second, Joss Whedon on How To Be Prolific

in-focus-joss-whedonHe may be hyperactively productive in a way that leaves most of breathless, but his advice hits home for me. Next actions.

Say you have three projects going–for Whedon they could be working out the action storyboard for a new movie in production, fine-tuning a script, and casting yet another blockbuster. For me, the to-do’s will be more pedestrian: writing a blog post, sending out a query letter to a state history magazine, and checking the job boards.

So let’s just say that there are three things you could be doing. That’s what I have in common with Joss Whedon. So how does he handle it?

Per this interview with Ari Karpel for Fast Company, he says, “break your list down into next actions. . . . Don’t just say, ‘Oh, I need to work on that.’ Say, ‘I need to work on this element of that.’ Absolutely eat dessert first. The thing that you want to do the most, do that.”

He does the fun stuff first, because that’s where his heart is.  But the main theme: “‘Next actions’ is one of the most important things that you can say in any endeavor.”

More advice? “Fill the tanks, fill the tanks, fill the tanks. . . . Step outside your viewing zone, your reading zone.” Meaning, watch or read things you would not normally see. Some would call in grist for the mill, or filling the well.  As Whedon points out, if you take your inspiration from only one source, that will show in your work.

This has been echoed in other essays. Read poetry if you don’t usually. Get a feel for a strange cadence. See plays, experimental music, or classical orchestras. Or if plays are already your life, go hang out at the beach or take nature walks. Immerse yourself in something different.

Also: Don’t make excuses. “If you’re talking about it, you should be doing it.” (Actually, I think that one came form Whedon’s wife.)

Finally, a troubling article on misusing Goodreads reviews:

goodreadsAccording to Salon’s piece, titled “Did a Writer Get Bullied on Goodreads?” an author withdrew from self-publishing her book when reviewers–not professional reviewers, but Goodreads readers, who are encouraged to review books–posted a lot of 2-star reviews in advance of even seeing the book. When the author questioned this practice, she was punished with one-star reviews and pretty vile threats.

It’s all been removed now, so there is no way to verify what the author says and what Salon reported.

Here’s what upsets me about this, if indeed it happened: The  reviewing readers cited felt authors should stop whining about bad reviews–even when those reviews come out before the book, from folks who have never read the book. To them, honesty is not an issue–but the sacred right of the reviewer to post whatever s/he wants is. Huh?

I feel like I slipped into a parallel universe called Inside Out Land.

Writers in writing groups sometimes review their friends’ books, whether or not they have time to read them, because that is the only way to get attention for a book these days–get it lots of reviews.  And if they do read the book, are they going to rate it poorly? And hurt their friends? Even Lincoln, I believe, had a problem with that–wasn’t he the person whose review of a friend’s book read, “For those who like to read this kind of book, this is the kind of book they will like?”

The issue becomes honesty v. kindness, and it casts aspersions on the usefulness of reviews, period.  The incident that Salon describes, though, could better be classified as honesty v. meanness. And I don’t see the point.

But maybe it never happened.

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.