It is a truth universally known that an author in possession of a book must be in want of an audience. You’ve done the work, written a great book, polished it with an editor, written great cover copy and hired a designer to make it look spiffy. And now comes the hardest part of all: getting people to read it.
I’ve read and heard some astounding statistics recently. According to the Association of American Publishers, 22.55% of all book sales in 2012 were eBooks. That’s up from 17% in 2011 and 3% in 2009. While there is some indication that those numbers have or will plateau, there are other predictions that they will continue to rise. Another article – a rant really – that I read suggest that self-publishing is the new slush pile. And frankly, that’s a brilliant analogy! Nowadays, instead of hundreds of thousands of half-baked novels that are not ready for publication and shouldn’t yet see the light of day gracing slush piles in agents’ offices, they’re up online, available for 99 cents. But as the article also pointed out, there are brilliant works of fiction in slush piles. So how do you lift your book out of the slush and rocket it to success?
Well, I can only speak from my own experience, but with all of the choices and possibilities for active marketing out there, some work and some don’t. And now we take off our writer hats and put on those ill-fitting, ugly, uncomfortable sales and marketing hats. As any sales guy will tell you, the key to selling is to get as many “leads” as possible into the “sales funnel” so that you have a better chance of making more sales. Translation: you need as many people as humanly possible to see and know your name and the names of your books so that they will come back and buy books from you. Exposure is everything.
First and most important, you need to have an online platform. I’ve talked about this a bit before, and really there’s nothing I can add that Kristen Lamb hasn’t already talked about in her book We Are Not Alone: A Writer’s Guide to Social Media. From the notes of my experience, I can only handle so many social media platforms at a time. Facebook, Twitter, and my blog. That’s where I concentrate my effort. I tweet as much as I can using the 80/20 rule – 80 percent fun, informative, or interesting content and only 20 percent promotional content. Most of my effort goes into Facebook and this blog.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I have a pattern to the blog. Mondays I post interesting history tidbits connected to the time period in which I’m currently writing. Wednesdays I post about writing. Fridays are Fun Days. I try to post something random and engaging that people can relate to. Interspersed through these regular posts are Book Reports. I don’t have a schedule for those since I’m not reading at a consistent rate. I also want to note that I’ve shifted from writing them as reviews and focus more on what I’ve learned from the books. I do this because I’ve made the mistake of expressing a negative opinion about a few books and reaped the consequences. Never again. But I should also note that since I started writing book reports, I’ve had a lot of emails from random people asking me to read and review their books. This is a good sign! My name is out there. People are listening. That’s what we want. (Incidentally, I very politely decline these requests because I choose what to read as a way to improve my craft and frequently the books offered have been in genres I know nothing about and tend not to enjoy)
Facebook is a somewhat quieter venue, but one that is easier to keep up with and, I suspect, gets me the most notice. It’s really easy to share memes that make people laugh, smile, and click “like”. But I always add an original comment when I share. I also post about what I’m doing and ask questions. Much of the way I handle my Facebook page is modeled after what I see writers like Julia Quinn and Eloisa James doing. I recommend following leaders in your genre on FB and paying attention to what they do. I will also admit, freely and proudly, that I spend money on Facebook ads. Not a ton, but enough. And as I type this I have 1544 “likes”.
Side-note: Is it cheating to get people to like your page based on a Facebook ad? NO! It’s called advertising! It’s how products are sold. If someone who has never heard of me likes my page because of an ad, then likes several of the things I’ve posted, then suddenly I have someone who is invested in me who wasn’t before. And if they buy my books? Welcome to the point of paying money for ads.
Okay, what about some of the other well-publicized active marketing plans out there?
I heard some people like hanging out on Amazon boards and Goodreads groups. I tried, but it became too much of a time drain. I have done free giveaways of my novels and had a lot of success with that. It puts your books on a lot of people’s “To Read” list. Do they ever buy those books and read them? Eh, maybe someday.
I’ve also done blog tours – both the kind where I beg a bunch of my friends to host me on their blogs and the kind you pay to be involved in. What do I think of them? Actually, I really, really like doing them! But that’s because I love writing blog posts. Have I seen mass quantities of sales from these tours? Not really. Do the tours mean my name has gotten out there? Absolutely.
Okay, what about things like triberr and other sharing conglomerates? I don’t know. I’ve had some very kind people share twitter links for my promos with their triberr groups and I have a dear, dear friend who is sure to post my promo links in the reddit groups she’s a part of when called for. Is this helpful? I think so, but I don’t have the energy to personally be a part of the groups and do all that sharing.
Which brings me to Street Teams. As I understand it, Street Teams are super-fans who post your links everywhere, give you good reviews (maybe?), and generally do all the rah-rah-rahing when you don’t have the time to. They may be the single most awesome invention in modern eBook marketing. The trouble is, you kind of have to have a following already to get people who are that excited to volunteer their time to do all the thankless grunt-work for you. Or you can hire them, but they’re expensive.
Another personal favorite tool I’ve stumbled across are sites like Book Bub and Pixel of Ink. These are companies that email daily links to book deals online. I get the Book Bub email for Romance every day, and yes, I look at it every day. However, they cost money. Also however, I’ve heard of writer friends being rejected because their book isn’t “good enough” (although I don’t honestly know what that means from Book Bub’s point of view). But does this service work? YES!
Last summer, when I did my first free promo of The Loyal Heart, Book Bub listed the book in their daily email. Cover, blurb, and a notice that it was free. I had over 50,000 copies of the book downloaded! The thing is, I didn’t ever contact them. I got SUPREMELY lucky, because they had a day when no one had signed up to have their promo email-blasted. When I contacted them to thank them a million times, they explained that they sometimes list free books without the author paying them as incentive to have the author work with them again in the future. But that was a year ago. I don’t know what their policy is now. They’re awesome though.
Which brings me to the absolute best marketing technique I have discovered to date. This technique trumps all others in its effectiveness. I have seen exponentially more results from this one than anything else I’ve done, and yet it is my belief that this is the culmination of all of the other techniques: offering a book for free.
Here’s the thing about free eBook promos though. You can’t just toss up any old book for free and expect to retire a millionaire. Giving away a book for free works best if it is the first book in a series. It works best if you have already built an online platform and gone on a blog tour and have your street team or online peeps telling everyone they know about it. It works best if you already have an audience with whom you can share the news of the freebie. And yes, it only really works if the book you’re giving away for free is a really damn good book.
I’ve also played around with various aspects of the free book promo. I was so shocked after having 50k copies of The Loyal Heart downloaded after my first promo that I can’t even tell you. I was shocked and delighted to sell so many copies of the sequel! But I wondered, did I have so many books downloaded because I told everyone and they told everyone? A couple of months later I set the price of The Loyal Heart for free again for roughly the same amount of time, but this time I didn’t tell a soul. I didn’t breathe a word of it. But a few of my friends did find out and shared links & such. Result? I had about half of the number of copies downloaded for free and an equivalent amount of sales of the sequels. Not one to rest there, I threw in my “control group” giveaway and offered TLH for free again, this time telling everyone loud and proud. That time I had many more downloads than the previous time, but not quite as many as the first time. With the proportionate amount of subsequent sales.
The conclusion? Free promos work wonders. You can still do well if you keep quiet about it, but you will do better if you scream and shout about them. Also, I tested the waters of offering the second book in the trilogy, The Faithful Heart, for free. Downloads were dismal and I kind of killed the awesome sales of that book that I’d been experiencing. Note to self: never discount the second book.
And at the risk of boring you to tears, one more note about free promos. I offered the first book in my western historical Montana Romance series, Our Little Secrets, for free in May. It blew my mind how many downloads I had (I’m estimating at about 75,000, but I don’t have all the figures yet). Sales of Fool for Love were also insane – in the good way. Here’s the thing. I believe I pulled that sale too soon. Yes, Our Little Secrets was free for almost but not quite 3 weeks. It was staying consistently in the top 3 historical romance downloads on iBooks and Amazon, and fluctuated between about 13 and 28 on the Top 100 Free Kindle Books list for two weeks. It was still going strong and holding its spot when I ended the sale. Numbers for both of the Montana Romance books stayed super high for about a week after that, then dropped. A big part of me believes I should have kept OLS for free until it dropped off the charts and out of existence. But hey, I’ll have another chance to experiment with length of free promotions later this summer *wink, wink, nudge, nudge*
So those are some things that have worked. Here are some things that were a colossal waste of money and some things that I’ve seen other authors do that make me want to kick puppies.
Paying for reviews? Pointless. And now it’s also frowned on. It wasn’t when I gave money to that review company two years ago, but seeing as they never actually reviewed the book, it doesn’t matter.
Getting people to review your book for book blogs or magazines? Very, very useful for gaining quotes to stick on the cover of future books, but I haven’t seen many sales based on those reviews. But I also think it’s a great idea to foster a good relationship with reviewers.
Spamming people through Twitter or Goodreads with links to your books? Please don’t make me hurt you. I have and continue to unfollow and unfriend authors who do this. It gets you absolutely the wrong kind of attention. So does posting nothing but “buy my book” links on your Twitter or Facebook feed.
Hiring publicity services to do the work for you? I don’t know. I have never used one of these services. Mostly because they’re really expensive and I don’t have that kind of money.
Bookmarks, postcards, fliers, and other giveaways? Waste of money, in my opinion.
Interviewing other authors or having them write guest posts on your blog? Seriously one of the coolest and most fun ways to build community, support your fellow authors, and to have fun! I cannot recommend doing this enough. I’ve interviewed huge names in Romance – like Eloisa James, Nicole Jordan, and Delilah Marvelle, and Courtney Milan is going to be stopping by at the end of July (yes she is!) – and I’ve had up-and-comers visit too. It’s awesome. But have these interviews led directly to sales? Not many. But who cares! Eloisa James was on my blog!
All right, all right, this post is way the heck too long already, so I’ll wrap it up. The moral of the story is, active marketing is all about getting your name and your books’ names out there. The day I knew I had succeeded as a marketer was when I was at a writing workshop introducing myself to some fellow writers and one of them, who I’d never met before, said she’d heard of me. Best day ever! But it too time. Lots and lots of time. Lots of blog posts and guest posts and tweets and hours on Facebook. You have to keep doing it, putting quality content out there, even when you aren’t seeing the results you want. Active means continually active. It means persistence and it means patience.
So what did I miss? Has anyone else found success through means I didn’t mention?