book promotion, book sales, self-publishing

The power of a newsletter. I hope.

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How can we gain readers? Blogging is approximate, Facebook is fickle and tweets are lost like bubbles that burst as soon as they’re formed. Only one answer, then: a newsletter. Well, that’s what I’ve heard, time and again, from self-publishing marketing gurus, foremost among them Mark Dawson and Nick Stephenson. Build your mailing list!  As Dawson puts it, my mailing list is a crucial – THE crucial – part of my business. It’s my most valuable asset. Because then you have email addresses so you’re sending out regular content to a (more or less) captive audience. So that’s what I’m doing. Last week, GD did me the honour of posting one of my letters, so the least I can do now is explain the mechanics behind it.

First you’ll need an email marketing service. I’m currently using Mailchimp, which has good functionality and is free up to 2000 subscribers. After that, it’s $30 a month, rising to $50 when you hit 3000. Not exactly cheap. As I’m getting close to 2000, I’ve started looking at alternatives. Among the best known is Mailerlite, which is free up to 1000, only rising to $35 a month when you reach 10,000 (by which time, if all goes to plan, you should be generating more than enough revenue to cover the cost). Here’s a more detailed comparison of the two. But they’re not the only ones: here’s a list of several more.

But readers don’t sign up to lists for no reason. In return for giving you their email address, they want something of value to them, such as a free book or a video course. Make your first book free, and if subscribers like it enough, they’ll buy the second, especially if it’s part of a series. Or so the reasoning goes. But with so many free books out there, for that to happen, you’re going to need a lot of subscribers.

Next you want somewhere readers will find you. A landing page on a blog is all very well, but unless you have a huge amount of traffic, the sign-up rate is so low it could take years to build your list to any decent size. Then there’s the call to action placed at the front and back of your permafree book on Amazon, including a reader magnet (e.g. Sign up to my newsletter to join my readers’ group to get another free book / short story / novella and be informed of new releases). Here again, the sign-up rate is tiny. The solution? Shared promotions and giveaways. Since I signed up to Mailchimp almost a year ago, I’ve participated in half a dozen. Results have varied, ranging from barely 20 subscribers to the current one (40 mystery novels), with over 700. Readers sign up to giveaways on one of the two main sites, Instafreebie or Bookfunnel. This video (20 min) explains how both of them work.

Finally, but of course not least, you need content. This is the hardest part – an insipid or uninformative newsletter will lose subscribers fast. But if it’s helpful, fun to read, or offers something of value (more giveaways, a free story), they’ll stay. All of them? That would be nice, wouldn’t it? But with each letter you send out, you can expect a hefty batch of unsubscribes. How many depends on the number of subscribers you have, so it’s best to talk percentages: in my experience, anything from 2% to 8%. Which is fine – lots of people sign up just for the freebies, so they’re unlikely to become your fans in any case.

Those are the ingredients then. What about the stats? How good a strategy is it? And what’s the best measure in any case? The most rewarding (financially) is the number of sales of a second book after readers have downloaded the first. If I include the sales of book two (Perfume Island) at the time of its launch, my conversion rate is 2.3%. Excluding the launch, it’s less than 1%. There are other measures, like the open rate of the newsletter (35% – 40% for mine) or the number of reviews on Amazon (Mark Dawson puts forward a figure of 1 per every 1000 downloads), but the bottom line, of course, is sales.

Am I downhearted? No. Nor even surprised, now that I know what the nature of the game is. For me, it’s way too early to draw conclusions. I’ve only got two books out, and there’s a lot I’ve still got to learn. My expectation is that until I reach at least 5000 subscribers, release a couple more books (and probably start spending on advertising), there won’t be any significant result. But so far this is the only strategy I’ve come across. It’s no doubt getting harder as time goes by, and it requires endless patience and perseverance, but there are plenty of authors who’ve used it satisfactorily. So sometime you can expect another post from me, triumphantly announcing I’m one of them. Maybe. In the meantime, you can always sign up to my newsletter.

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book promotion, book sales

Another Report from the Front

Having seen my book sales stall spectacularly over the last year or so (big news, I know), I decided to hoard my pennies and buy some ad time to promote some free giveaway days on Amazon.com. (I know, I know. The irony of having to pay to give your books away is not lost on me, but I don’t want to get into that.) Simply making your books free on Amazon will get you bupkis in terms of downloads, ‘cuz who’s going to notice? So you pay for attention. The hope? That among those who download the book for free will be a fair number that will actually read it, maybe review it, maybe like it well enough to buy your other books and give them to all of his friends, including the indie movie director looking for fresh product for her next feature film production.

You get the idea. To be honest, I have done this before and reported on it here.  The results never actually pay for themselves (nor did they this time) but a giveaway does generate a few sales after the fact, and some royalties from folks who read the books on KU.

I did things a little different this time. Mostly, I made both of my older titles (Spark and Flight of the Wren) free at the same time, and ran a variety of promotions, both free and paid. I did not promote the giveaway on Facebook or Twitter, and I do not think I missed much by not doing so. I’ve never gotten a noticeable bounce from posting in either location, even when I used Facebook’s paid ads.

So where did I promote? Robin Reads, Awesome Gang, Free and Discounted Books, ebooklister, Digital Book Today, Ask David, Bookangel, Frugal Freebies… Basically, a bunch of websites and emailing services that exist precisely for that purpose (Including the rather ominously named Ignite Your Book).

Basically, it goes like this:  You make your book free for up to five days (as a member of KU, you can do that every three months). Your promoters list your book as being free in their promotional material (some are email lists, which can be pretty effective. Some are simply listings on their websites, which tend to be worthless.) Readers notice, and go to Amazon (hopefully with a simply click) and download your book for free. This downloading causes your book to climb up the Amazon lists, specifically the Top 100 Free in Kindle Store list. Only that list isn’t nearly specific enough. Your book will begin showing up on the sub-lists, like Top 100 Free Historical Fiction list, or Top 100 Free Genre Fiction list. But even that isn’t specific enough. You may get to those lists eventually, but the lists that really help you get noticed break it down even farther than that, because these lists have 100 titles (right?) which are spread out over five pages, and who’s got time to search five whole pages? No. You want to get on page one, preferably near the top.

Fortunately, the sub-category lists are made to make this possible, and your book will end up on several of them, depending on what categories and keywords you chose when you were publishing your book on Kindle Direct Publishing.

Here’s how it worked for me. On KDP, I listed Spark as Fiction>Science Fiction>Alien Contact. Since you can put it in two categories I also listed it as Juvenile Fiction>Science Fiction. These aren’t optimal, but you only get so many options to choose from. Under Keywords, I chose: female protagonist, high school, parallel universe, gnosticism, paranormal, extraterrestrial, girl’s basketball. I know, this is a pretty funny list, but I was trying to cover the bases. I wanted both some popular lists (on which my book would be obscure) and some obscure lists (on which my book would be popular, or at least prominent). During the giveaway, Spark made a good showing on the Juvenile Fiction>Science Fiction>Aliens list. Also the Juvenile Fiction>Science Fiction>First Contact list. It also got some play on the Paranormal, Occult, Supernatural list. It got to #1 on all of these lists and #4 for the Top 100 Free Science Fiction list. Even on the BIG list (Top 100 Free in Kindle Stores list) it made a tiny splash, topping out at #74.

Genre Fiction>Society>Marriage

Obviously, appearing on numerous lists in higher positions perpetuates more downloads, causing your book to climb even higher, and so on and so forth. This is what drives downloads once the initial push from promotion peters out (and it does quickly). Flight of the Wren didn’t do as well as Spark, only reaching #99 on the BIG list, but it did spend considerable time on page one of Teen & Young Adult>Coming of Age list, and the Genre Fiction lists, getting as high as #20 for Genre Fiction, putting it in company with a considerable amount of rather generic looking chick lit and a lot of gay smut. (For a long time, Renny’s face floated among the chiseled male torsos of fire fighters, navy seals, and rodeo ropers.) Spark, on the other hand, spent most of her time bobbing around among such titles as Earthkid Hero, Mickey the Martian, Starship Conquest, and Deck the Malls with Purple Peacocks.

Then, after your giveaway times out, it all ends. Abruptly. My download totals were as follows: Day One — 1822 downloads. Day Two — 2203 downloads. Day Three — 798 downloads. Day four had 26 downloads, but those were just residuals, because I had ended the promotion by then. In the three weeks since the promotion, I have sold nine books. (Don’t be jealous, kids.) Also, and more importantly, I have had 5798 page reads through KU. Probably, these have already peaked, but they could continue for a while. I’ve had a couple of near zero days, but only four days ago I had a 575 page day, so you never know. For the record, KU considers my books to have 426 and 411 pages respectively, so 5798 pages is equal to almost 14 complete readings, and royalties are roughly equal to that many sales.

So, worth it? I dunno. Certainly I lost money, but I knew I would. But for every reader I know about, there might be dozens more. Nearly 5000 people downloaded my books, and some of them will read them, eventually, maybe. Some isn’t many, probably, but it has to be something. A mere two percent would be one hundred readers.

We’ll see. It takes time. I’ve gotten a few reviews already. That takes time too.

But that seems like the subject for another day.

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book promotion, book reviews, book sales, publishing, reading, Uncategorized

Now, here’s something new – a reader!

Writer's Block

Well, the launch is done – phew! I’m a bit surprised at how tense I got – I thought I’d be more laid back. Too early, of course, to give a report, but the first impression is… mixed. Yes, it’s better than the last, but given that all I did then was post on my blog, that’s hardly difficult. This time I had a strategy – build up my mailing list and ask my subscribers to post reviews. I’d sent a free copy of Perfume Island to over a hundred, but so far none has appeared. Early days yet, perhaps – we shall see. But the only reviews so far have been from people I was in touch with before (you guys included – many thanks!).

On the other hand, it has been good to get a couple of messages from complete strangers telling me, ‘I enjoy your books so much.’ And it made me realise that I’ve never before experienced that sort of connection with readers. It gives me a glow inside that’s different from other satisfactions I’ve got from writing. For a couple of reasons, I think. Firstly, as I said, these aren’t people I’ve built an online relationship with – they’re people who’ve come across my books by chance or because they happen to like the mystery genre. And that’s the second thing – they aren’t writers but readers. Crucial as it is to engage with and learn from other writers, we’re not normal readers because we always have one eye on the craft of writing (‘Ah, what a beautiful / overblown / clunky sentence that is!’). So it’s rather strange to think that someone might be reading my book simply because they want to enjoy a good story. You might say it’s a bit late to be discovering only now what it’s like to have a few readers. Well, yes, I fumbled and faltered a lot along the way. But better late than never, you’re never too old to fulfil your dreams, yada, yada…

Will Perfume Island actually sell many copies? Probably not. But a few more than One Green Bottle (again, not difficult). And the prospect of having readers raises another issue: they’re following a series. What do I do with Magali now? Is she a brand? Do I owe it to my readers to keep her going? Well, here’s what Hugh Howie has to say: ‘A big mistake I see from too many aspiring writers is to follow up their first work with a sequel, and turn that into a trilogy, and write a fourth and fifth book while they plan their sixth and seventh. […] Plan on writing many great books about many awesome characters. Plan on writing three different trilogies in three different genres. Sequels aren’t bad; in fact, they can be critical to your success. What’s bad is only giving readers a handful of avenues into your imagination. Give them as many onramps as possible. Write short stories as well as novels. Write in different genres. Experiment and adapt to your sales and any critical feedback.’ (The full article, which covers many other points, is here.)

I found that reassuring. Because much as I like Magali, I don’t want to be wedded to her for the rest of my writing life. In fact, other ideas are barging to the front of the queue, demanding to be written. For the moment, though, I’m thrusting them back. A trilogy, at least – I can’t not write a trilogy. So this morning, with great relief, I stopped looking on Amazon every other minute and got back in touch with Magali and Charlotte in Mystery Manor (much darker, more thriller than mystery this time). Because if I don’t do that, I might lose my readers just when I’m starting (let’s be optimistic here) to gain them.

As for the marketing, I see no alternative to persisting with the mailing list. The first time people unsubscribed, I was dismayed. Now I’m pleased – it means I won’t be annoying them. And little by little, there’s a chance that of those that remain, a few will swell the number of that very select group I think of now as ‘my readers’.

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book promotion

Where should you advertise your book?

There isn’t yet a reblog button on this site, so I’ve just copied the first two paragraphs along with a link to the full article. A good report by Andrew Updegrove on the options open to you if you want to advertise your book.

Over the last ten years, literally hundreds of services have sprung up that send daily newsletters featuring discount and free ebooks to subscribers. The king of them all is BookBub, with millions of subscribers. Unfortunately, unless you’ve written a real best seller, it’s almost impossible to get them to accept your book (and if they do, it will set you back as much as $1000 for that one-shot ad). The good news is that out of all the rest, there is a very small handful of services that can help you sell lots of books. The key is to figure out which they are, and what type of promo to run. Read on, and I’ll share what I’ve learned through running hundreds of ads over the past two years with scores of these services.

In order to find out which sites can produce, whenever I tried a new service, I ran it alone at a time I wasn’t doing any other significant promotion. And two cautions before I go into the results: first, each of my books is a thriller. Your results may vary if you are in another genre. And second, it’s a dynamic marketplace, with many services rising and falling in effectiveness all the time.

The results and discussion can be found at:

http://andrew-updegrove.com/how-to-actually-sell-books-through-advertising/

 

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book promotion, book reviews, publishing

Strategy update

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I’ve been busy. Still am, but starting to see the end of the tunnel as regards my marketing strategy. The first tunnel anyway – there are lots more to come. Here’s what I’ve done so far.

Using Draft2Digital, I’ve made One Green Bottle free on Apple, Barnes & Noble and Kobo. It was up there already but shifting no copies, so it’s not much of a change. Now I need to write to Amazon to ask them to match that price, i.e. have it permafree. They’re under no obligation to do that, so I don’t know how they’ll respond. But they’re well aware that many authors do this as part of their marketing.

I’ve written Making a Murder, six essays about the writing of One Green Bottle, which I’m offering free to anyone who signs up to my newsletter. The offer is at the front and back of One Green Bottle, so anyone downloading it has an incentive to sign up and I get their email address, which obviously I can’t get directly from Amazon. I don’t know if Making a Murder will appeal – it’s not fiction, and the essays are humorous, so it’s a gamble. It would probably be better to stay in the same genre, which is what I intended, but my novella, which was to serve that purpose, needs more work.

I’ve been paying a lot of attention to my mailing list. I had around 700 subscribers after doing a joint promotion and a giveaway (many more from the first than the second) and I then sent different messages according to whether they opened my first email or not. I offered Perfume Island free, prior to its release in November, and removed over 200 subscribers who didn’t open that email. Of those that did, 112 signed up to receive the book.

That’s a lot of giving away of two books that have taken me five years to complete. Not so long ago I’d have thrown up my arms in horror at the very idea. Now? I’m quite relaxed – 112 reading the sequel is 3 or 4 times more than read the first. Not all will like it and of those that do, only a few will write reviews, but I’m still at a stage when I need to reach out to those few.

The worst part of all this work? Converting Making a Murder to epub and mobi formats, which I have to do if I’m sending it out myself. Converting a text is fine – Calibre handles that easily. But getting a text with pictures just right is a challenge. Or a nightmare, depending on your mood.

From time to time, I step out of my marketing bubble and see that the world continues to turn and hurricanes to blow. I’m working on a third book in the series, which I hope to bring out before the Apocalypse.

 

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A (possible) blurb. Plus additional wry remarks.

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Not Sly. But I love those eyes.

Creating a good hook (a blurb) for a book is a tricky business.  

Short and punchy is the rule of thumb. Get as many eyes as possible to your first page. But, my book is not easily conveyed in a few phrases. I could call Rogue a grand gallivant (true as it can be) but that doesn’t capture the insanity.

What I can come up with here, now, on the fly? 

> Puss in Boots as you’ve never seen him. On the money, but trite, and useless, tells you nothing.

> A smarty-pants cat kicks butt in sixteenth century Europe. Closer in spirit, but still way short of the silly stew I’ve … ah … concocted, from numerous sources.

I’ve done a huge amount of historical research, from biographies to period pieces (Margaret Cavendish, called the first female scientist, liked to put her theories into verse. I’ve taken her impulse and run with it) to a marvelously enjoyable Ph.D thesis on a walled town in southern France not far from my first locale. (I borrowed details of the landscape, with permission of the author. I managed to track her down to the BBC.) Rogue is a merry mash-up filtered through my own off-balance point of view.

Rogue is my personal An Incomplete Education, a wonderful book that purports to give an overview of all the information we should have absorbed in college. Twenty years of poking around in history books has made me moderately well versed on the sixteenth century in matters large and small, able to regale you with, for instance, the curious circumstances surrounding the invention of the pencil. The new technology, initially a military secret, figures in my story in strange ways.

The Rogue Decamps is a bit challenging, quirky, and (horrors!) complex. It’s not Disney. Nor is it a rehash of the traditional tale. It’s arch this-and-that. I have some social commentary, but – relax – those remarks are decidedly screwball. It’s black humor in spots, snark more generally, sweet from time to time. My cat is a fully formed personality, with all the faults and foibles of the human kind. He drags a load of regrets around with him, and obsesses over them, delightfully. (IMO) He’s a bully, a con artist, a sweetheart and a snot. Like any cat, right? (I should know, I’ve lived my life – seventy years so far – in the company of cats.)

Writercoop-ers (writercoop.wordpress.com): Have I said anything useable here, or have I shot myself in the foot? I can’t do a bait and switch, cast a wide net with an uncomplicated blurb, lose readers soon thereafter. They have to have an inkling of what they’re in for.

My few followers on Facebook: If you like this . . . flavor, chances are you’ll find much in my opus (a three-book series) that will have you giggling your head off. Or, as the kids say, ROLF.

I’m nearly done with what I’ve vowed will be the final revision. Plot (conventional momentum) be dammed, I prefer to stop and smell the roses.

One last try at a bite-size blurb: 

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Sly! The Rogue Decamps. (Intro/novella to a series.)

A Smarty-Pants Cat Kicks Butt in Sixteenth Century Europe.

From a faux-visitation by the Virgin Mary (the goal, to lure religious tourism to a dirt-poor backwater realm) to a joint effort with Elizabeth’s Royal Astrologer to eradicate a nasty rodent infestation in a North German town, a whacky wiseacre offers astute but invariably self-serving advice to creeps, cranks, and kings.

Sylvester, aka Sly, is a poet . . . of interesting verse. A scholar . . . devising his own theory of gravity fifty years before Newton . . . folks, he’s Puss-in-Boots, reimagined from the boots up.

He’s the original animal rights activist. He’s got a whiff of Vonnegut about him, how can you resist that? He’s a good-hearted know-it-all, and I furnish him with a series of hapless sidekicks to bounce ideas off and to push around.

The guy’s a corker, full of piss and vinegar, cute as he can be. Aren’t you curious? Step into my ready-to-rollick Wayback Machine. We’re off on one hell of a jaunt.

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I plan to give the novella away as a promotion. This is one of my more sophisticated marketing schemes. Another is to hand out leaflets, dressed as a cat, in Times Square, maybe get myself arrested as a public nuisance, maybe land on the evening news. Or take videos to post on YouTube. A third ploy is to create bumper stickers, mail piles of them to everyone I know to, hopefully, pass out. If you see a bumper sticker, My Guy Sly – that will be the name of my future website – you’ll know I’m up and running.

Sly was taken. Screwball was gone. I pounced on My Guy Sly for a domain name. It is already in use, here, there, as a user name. On one site it belongs to a dodo who adores Sly Stallone. Didn’t move quickly enough there.

I’m way late to the party on a number of fronts. Hey, if I’d been on the ball twenty years ago, I could have bought Amazon. I am no financial visionary. I am no marketing genius. Tech, web tours and such, confounds me. I’m going to work it the old-fashioned way, on the hoof, channel P. T. Barnum, raise a ruckus, my marketing in sync with the anything-goes approach of the story. You take the high road, I’ll take the low road. I just may get to Scotland afore ye.

Next time, kids, I’ll talk about my idea for a Sly-mobile. Now, my husband may not go for our new car plastered bumper to bumper with decals. I believe I’ll wait a while, a good while, to spring that on him.

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Marketing update

repeat

A short while ago I announced I was doing a giveaway. It ended on 5th July, so here are the preliminary results. In fact I also participated in a cross-promotion in which 20 mystery and suspense authors made their books available free on Instafreebie, undertaking to promote the offer to their mailing list.

The giveaway was costly – the value of the prize plus promoting the giveaway itself came to over $200. I’d hoped for a minimum of 200 subscribers; I got 97. Conclusion? Not worth it. Especially when compared to the cross-promotion, which cost me nothing (Instafreebie offer a free trial for a month, after which it’s $20 a month if you want to collect the email addresses of those who download your book).

The cross-promotion brought in 576 subscribers, meaning I now have upwards of 700 altogether. In three years of blogging, I laboriously reached 65, so the sudden influx is massive. Is this the way forward? Everyone says so.

Now the challenge is to convert those subscribers into readers, and ultimately readers who’ll want to pay for the next book in the series. I’m approaching this with some trepidation – send out too many emails, be too pushy or adopt the wrong tone, and they’ll unsubscribe. So far, my unsubscribe rate is under 4%, which is healthy. If it goes up to 7%, Mailchimp (free till you get to 2000 subscribers) suspect you of spamming and send you nasty warnings.

A lot of people, of course, don’t even open the emails. Or don’t read the free books. Or if they do, don’t pay for the next one. So only a tiny proportion of subscribers will become your followers or fans. How tiny? Only time will tell. But at least it feels like I’ve got some sort of traction, a sense of control over a process which has hitherto been random and wasteful. If I convert just 5% of subscribers into followers, that’s 35 – not a lot, but still way more in a single month than in three years of effort up to then. So what do I do next? Rinse and repeat.

 

 

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