About Writers, book sales

Study Finds Number of Writers May Soon Exceed Readers

Industry insiders report that the number of downloads from amateur authors now exceeds the number of consumers who are actually interested in reading them.

“Readership has been declining for decades, of course,” said an industry insider who wished to remain anonymous. “What with television and the internet and the proliferation of flash mobs, there are simply too many readily available forms of entertainment out there. Plus, they’re all so much easier than reading. Let’s face it, reading requires a lot more effort than just staring at something.”

Though the trend toward shorter, easier entertainment has been developing for a long time, it is an entirely different trend that now threatens to overwhelm the American book reader: the growth of self publishing. Ever since the advent of ebooks and self-publishing services such as Kindle Direct Press and Smashwords, the number of books being published has ballooned. In 2015, the number of self-published ebooks was anywhere from 600,000 to 8.2 million depending on whose sources you believe. When pressed for an exact number, a representative at Amazon told us, “It’s hard to know for sure. By the time we finish counting, the number’s already obsolete. We can’t keep a handle on it.”

“Writers are usually readers,” our anonymous source added, “and there’s part of your problem. A lot of those folks who would formerly have been reading are now working on their seven-part epic fantasy series or writing Kidnapped by One Direction fan fiction. It’s a real quandary. It’s like with photography, or being a singer-songwriter. Way more people want to produce their own albums than will ever want to buy them.”

Indeed the tsunami of new fiction may well be unstemmable. “In many cases, authors aren’t even asking for money anymore,” according to our anonymous source. “They’re giving the books away for free, just begging people to take them.”

Unfortunately for would-be authors, free may no longer be a sufficient discount.

“Good lord!” one reaimg_5974der told us, “My kindle is stuffed with free books! If I started now, I couldn’t read them all. But there are so many more out there! Everyday, my email gets more mailers with more free stuff, and it’s kind of hard to resist. It’s so frustrating!” She added, shaking her head, “Besides, I’m already hours behind in my Netflix binge-watching. There just aren’t enough hours in the day!”

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book promotion

Many a slip…

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Not a lot can go wrong if you have a publisher, can it? Obviously, the promotion effort is on you, but that’s to be expected. If you’re lucky, the publisher will do their bit – after all, it’s in their interest too to let the world know you’re launching a book. At the very least, you’ll discuss with them what sort of promotion campaign to run – when, where, for how long and so forth.

But there’s many a slip etc. Your publisher could go bankrupt – that’s happened to me before. Or else go silent – that’s happened to me now. We’d planned the release of Perfume Island for 20th September, but as the date drew nearer and I had no news, nor any answer to my emails, I somewhat reluctantly called a halt to the whole operation. Then I finally got a response apologising for the absence.

This post is not a gripe. I’m not complaining or denouncing or accusing. On the contrary, although this has thrown me off kilter, I’ve been happy with our relationship up to now, and the ending has been amicable and fair. But obviously, I can’t pretend it never happened. After all, a few people were aware that Perfume Island was due out shortly, and some were poised to write a review, so I needed to clarify the situation in order to be able to move on.

Move on where? Self-publishing. It’s the only option I have. I could hunt for an agent or publisher but none will ever accept the second book in a series if they don’t already have the first. Besides which, the book is ready for release now, not in some distant, uncertain future.

In terms of promotion, the strategy remains the same, more or less. When you have a series, the central plank of your strategy is to offer the first book free, or heavily discounted, using it as a ‘reader magnet’ to draw people on to the second. So what we’d planned was a two-week promotion, offering One Green Bottle free, starting a month before the launch of Perfume Island. That way, people would have time to read OGB, love it (or not) and hop over to Amazon to buy Perfume Island (or not). Cunning, eh? But when the time arrived, I saw that the price on OGB hadn’t changed. Clearly, there was a problem.

The cause of the problem? KDP Select. Now, I did know that OGB had been enrolled in KDP Select at the outset, but I thought it was just for the first 90 days. So I’d assumed that it could now be offered free for a full two weeks, rather than just for 5 days, as stipulated by KDP Select. I repeat – I blame no one here, or at least, the blame can be shared. I should have made sure the book was no longer with KDP Select, rather than just assume so. A misunderstanding, shall we say.

As I see it, KDP Select can be useful, but probably not at the beginning. Fantasy author Suzanne Rogerson has a slightly different take on the matter, which she details in two helpful posts (one and two). My view is that once you have an established readership, fine, but until then, you need the flexibility to make your first book free for as long as you like. Permafree, if you’re up for it. Which is what I intend to do.

As soon as I saw what had happened, I started a novella, prequel to OGB. It’s now turned into a hybrid – part novella, part explanation of the writing of OGB. I’m aiming for a November release, with Perfume Island to follow shortly after.

Phew! As if writing itself wasn’t hard enough, getting it out there and (maybe, conceivably) noticed can be harrowing! Still, the initial dismay having passed, I’m now feeling more serene. I’m not saying that one day, I won’t have another crack at the traditional route, but for the moment, I’m savouring the truth of what everyone says about self-publishing – however much of a struggle, you’re in control of the process.

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book promotion, book sales

Report from the Front Lines.

Nine Hundred and Forty-Two Million. According to Wikipedia, that’s the number of English speakers in the world. That includes 603 million people for whom it is a second language.

As a writer ever in search of an audience, my first crass thought upon hearing that statistic is: I wonder how many of them might want to read my books?

A study by the Pew Research Center reported that 23% of all Americans didn’t read a single book during 2014, and there’s not much reason to expect that number to improve. In addition, some of those other 77% who did read a book only read one, so they probably aren’t exactly hopefuls. So how many are real potential readers? Well, that same study showed that 42% of Americans read 11 books or more in the past year, roughly one a month. So lets use that figure. Let’s say 42% of 942 million.

That’s almost 400 million readers. Sell to a mere one percent of those folks, and you’re one of the most successful writers on the planet.

This sort of number crunching has been on my mind because I ran my first ever free promotion on Amazon a short while back for my book Spark. As most of you probably know, Amazon lets you sell your book for free for five days out of every ninety. I chose to spend the whole five days in one swoop. Here’s how the whole thing went down:

Day One: I decided to do Day One with a minimum of promotion. I was originally going to do none at all just to establish a baseline, but I got impatient so I did a couple of Twitter posts on sites that promote free books (maybe a dozen altogether). Day One total:  69 downloads.

Day Two: Here’s where the promotions kicked in. I chose two paid sites: Book Barbarian and Free Kindle Books and Tips. Total paid: $60. I set those up about a month in advance. I also submitted the book to a whole bunch of free promotional sites as well, about thirty. This was a very tedious and time consuming process. I also kept on promoting on Twitter, although not a lot. I have to admit, day two was kind of exciting, mostly because it was fun to watch the numbers climb. Day Two total: 1475 downloads.

(Note: some of the free sites posted my ad and some didn’t. It’s hard to be certain but I know the following sites posted: Reading Deals, My Book Cave (very helpful), It’s Write Now, eBookasaurus (but no cover picture), Bookangel, Ask David (very nice), Ignite Your Book (again, no cover), frugal freebies, discountbookman (first listing on the page. Nice.) and bookbongo.com. Some of these listings were little more than a postage stamp-sized cover on a page full of the same, and others were pretty nice. Next time, I’ll check them out a little more carefully beforehand, but hey, what d’ya want for free?)

Day Three: I kept on posting on Twitter and on a couple of free Facebook promotional pages, but I was probably mostly still riding the wave of my Day Two promotional push. I might have also been getting some downloads from Amazon’s own internal marketing machinery by now, because the book received pretty prominent placement on the Top Free Books lists. It was number one or two in Children’s Books Fantasy, Science Fiction, Fantasy and Magic, categories like that, so anyone browsing free books in those categories would have seen it. I topped out at number 4 for Free Children’s eBooks overall, and was high up on that list for a couple of days.

(A note about that: Children’s Books is not the label I would have chosen. Young Adult, sure, but Children’s Books was a very confused category. Spark was, at times, sandwiched between The Lonely Balloon, How to Draw Sea Creatures and Sinful Cinderella (which wasn’t porn, despite the name.) I think it would’ve done better if it had been on the YA list, but I must have entered it wrong. (Incidentally, there were other YA books on the list. In fact the comparable paid list was mostly various Harry Potter. But still, it wasn’t the ideal category.)

My best position for the overall free list occurred on Day Three. For a few hours, Spark was the 88th most downloaded free book at the Amazon Kindle store. That was cool, but I’m sure my placement on the minor category lists got me a lot more looks. Day Three total: 752 downloads.

By Day Four things were slowing down. I continued to post on Twitter, and I did a boosted Facebook post which got a fair number of looks. It cost me eleven dollars, reached 1185 people, and garnered about 50 likes. It’s hard to know if it resulted in more downloads, but certainly no more than those 50, so that was clearly the worst-spent money in the campaign. But I got some new likes on my author page, and probably moved a couple of books. Day Four total: 409 downloads.

In the end, after five days, my downloads totaled 3061 units.

In truth, I’ve never been crazy about the idea of giving away my books. I know a lot of you feel the same. You worked hard on your books, and you believe them to be things of value. Giving them away is like saying “Hey! These are trivial and expendable! Have one!” And, as you’ve probably seen when established independent authors grouse about the glory days of two or three years ago, the free days don’t really work as well as they used to. Most of the people who love eBook giveaways have kindles already jammed with hundreds of books they haven’t read yet.

Kristen Lamb strongly discourages free giveaways, because it sets the expectation bar so low. People now expect eBooks to be free, which undervalues all of our work. I don’t disagree, but I also think that ship has sailed. It’s fine for me to refuse on principal, but who’s going to notice? The millions of people who are actively not buying my books?

You have to have an audience. You just do. It’s fine for Kristin Lamb to preach, and I’m glad she is, but she already has people listening. I don’t.

Look at it like this: I wasn’t selling books anyway. Now 3000 people have the book and might read it, might like it, might buy one of my other books. One percent? Two percent? Dare I hope for five percent? One hundred and fifty new readers?

I’d call that a start. Of course, I’ll never really know just how many, but I have sold six copies of Spark since the promotion (which is more than the week before. Hell, it’s more than the month before)  and over 3000 pages  have been read through Kindle Unlimited (plus 400 pages of Flight of the Wren, which UnknownI suppose was just a random occurrence). I’ve had two new five-star reviews  on my Amazon page and 33 people have added Spark to to their “to read” or “reading now” lists on GoodReads. So at the very least it means people saw it and wanted it, so it must be okay. The cover, the blurb, the Amazon landing page, they can’t be as unappealing as I sometimes think they must be, given the deafening roar of indifference I usually experience. So I’d do it again and I’d recommend it to others. And I’d recommend using as many forms of promotion as you can manage or afford. Make the most out of your giving. If my baseline of 69 books on Day One is any indication, my promotional efforts increased downloads by a factor of almost nine, so that’s highly significant.

I know it may seem odd crowing about how many books I gave away. Even odder that I spent money for the privilege. And it’s true, I spent $72 on my giveaway and so far I’ve made maybe 25 bucks back, but it’s only been a week or so. The books are out there. It takes time for people to read them.

This is the long game we’re playing.

I’ll keep you posted.

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book promotion, book sales, Literary Agents

Secret Agent Plan

OR

Five Four Three Two One Unique Ways to Get an Agent

Oh these sad and weary tales of woe.

Nope. Not this time. We’ve all been there and done that. Personally, I’ve read so many articles over the years about how to write the ideal query letter and get the perfect literary agent that I ought to be an authority by now. Unfortunately, like the typical ‘rules for writing’ article, most of them are little more than a list of things you shouldn’t do:

DON’T do mass, impersonal, “Dear Agent” queries;

DON’T query agents for genres they don’t represent;

DON’T make hyperbolic promises about your book being a guaranteed bestseller;

DON’T lie about all the literary awards you obviously haven’t won;

DON’T spell their names wrong.

There are lots more, but they all break down to the same basic piece of advice: be professional. A query letter is a business letter. Agents are in business to make money, so don’t waste their time with a lot of nonsense. Pitch the book, give your credentials, keep it brief. And edit for typos.

I think I’ve crafted some pretty good query letters in my day, but most great query letters end up in the same place as all the poor query letters: the reject pile. I don’t want to belabor a point that has been made too many times in too many places, so let’s just take it as a given that writing is hard, getting published is hard, making money is hard, yada yada yada. You can do everything right and still end up in the slush pile. In fact, most of us do.

Of course, most of us also keep dreaming. So when an article called “5 Unique Ways to Land An Agent” appeared in my email feed this morning, I had to look. Given that I am too cynical and hardboiled to believe that there are any magic beans in the publishing world, I wasn’t expecting much.

Guess what? There wasn’t much. Nothing against Meredith Blevins, who is a reasonably successful author and, I’m sure, a fine teacher, but I had to laugh at her list of five. I’ll summarize:

1) Get a writing degree. If you do (or hopefully did), you’ll meet people who can give you references and personal introductions and stuff like that.

2) Go to a writer’s conference, for the same basic reason.

3) Really. Go to a writer’s conference!

4) In fact, here’s one writer’s conference in particular that worked for one author she knows.

5) Go to New York and talk to agents in person. (The first time I typed this, I wrote “talk to agents in prison.” Sometimes the fingers just know what you’re really thinking.)

Maybe I’ve miscounted, but that’s really only three unique ways to land an agent. Unfortunately, two of them are nearly useless. Not a lot of us have the wherewithal to fly to New York or to attend graduate school (or even writer’s conferences, for that matter.) Her bottom line advice can be summarized thus: personal contact is always better than a letter. I have no doubt she is right. But also? Wow. Obvious.

So do these things work? Does a writing degree or attending writer’s conferences at least increase your chances of landing an agent? Maybe. I’m sure they can’t hurt. But I’ve known writers who have gone to plenty of conferences and never gotten representation, because it’s still an uphill battle against very long odds.han-solo-odds

I’ve had some big name agents request full manuscripts of mine, even had one offer rewrite suggestions—which I followed to the best of my ability and conscience—only to meet with eventual rejection. Not because she thought the book was bad, but because she didn’t see the potential for the kind of commercial success that would’ve made it worth her time and effort

The bottom line really is the bottom line.

But put all that gloom and doom aside. I’d love to get your take. Have you succeeded in landing an agent? What did it take? Did it help? Are agents even the way to go in this era?

Discuss, please.

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book promotion, book reviews, book sales, Google Ads

Where now?

Which-Direction-Main-b

I’m not going to talk about my first published novel, let alone the first one I wrote. Not that it’s a matter of the less said the better, but I don’t want to keep you up all night. So we’ll just go as far back as One Green Bottle, released last September.

Sales have been minimal. I hesitate to say disappointing, because one positive point, at least, is that I had no expectations. So I’m not plunged into a slough of despair. Objectively, though, there’ll be little point in continuing if the second book doesn’t do better.

Is it down to the book itself? There’s always that doubt – did I write a dud? But I’ve had enough feedback now to be fairly confident I didn’t. The book’s OK, it’s readable. People – if they knew about it – might enjoy it. Obviously, though, what I have written is a book that nobody needs. But that’s not just the case of One Green Bottle – you could say it of practically any book that’s published.

So where now? How am I preparing for the release of Perfume Island, scheduled for September? What are the steps to follow?

Reviews. Here on this site, Atthys Gage suggests a first step is to get a minimum of 15 to 20 advance reviews that will appear on or near the date of the book launch. After a year of blogging, I’ve built up enough of a following to make that number realistic. It’s been pointed out to me that reviews are of little value, since they only get seen by people who are already on your Amazon page. Very true – in the process leading from awareness of product to purchase of product, reviews are close to the purchase end. Nonetheless, it’s better to have them than not. If someone goes to your page and finds zero reviews, it’s not a great incentive to buy (even if many people say they don’t read the reviews, there are still plenty who do).

But the question remains: how to build the awareness that will drive people to Amazon in the first place? I read again and again that the main tool here is the mailing list. Get enough people to sign up to your newsletter and you can send them emails to inform them of new releases, giveaways and any other snippets that might be of interest. Even if only half of your subscribers open the newsletter, and out of those that do, one in 10 buys your book, that’s 50 purchases for every 1000 subscribers.

I haven’t been good with newsletters. I started one, dropped it, left a long gap and started a second one recently. Furthermore, I’ve been in a dither about what to put in it. Giveaways? Contests? Updates on the WIP? Pictures of the cat? I’ve subscribed to several myself and you find all of that (including the cat). In the end I settled for giveaway contests and a couple of serialised stories. Which is probably overcomplicating things – advice I’ve read since is to keep it simple. Inform of an upcoming release, a special offer maybe, and that’s it.

Everyone agrees you have to offer an incentive – people only sign up if they get something from it. So far I have 19 subscribers. Hmm… Perhaps my giveaways don’t give enough. I did think of offering a Lamborghini but decided against it in the end. Because the problem with giving away anything other than your books is that you’re not gaining readers but freeloaders. And to give away a book, you need to have written at least two, because the point is to get people reading (and liking) the first so then they’ll buy the second. Which is why the release of Perfume Island will be not just a writing milestone for me but a marketing one as well.

It’s possible also that I focus too much on my blog. It’s good to have one, yes, but it’s time-consuming and the sort of organic growth it offers is slow. Unless you have a massive following, it’s not the best way to build your mailing list. If I rely solely on my blog, awareness of the existence of Perfume Island is going to be way too low for any substantial number of readers to find it. So what’s the alternative? Twitter? I could do more there, but I still have trouble getting my head round it, and in terms of raising awareness, it’s one of the least effective channels there is. Yes, it can be done, but it requires dedication, personal engagement and time – much the same effort, in fact, as I put into my blog.

So now, very cautiously, I’m investigating Facebook. Reluctantly too – I like Facebook about as much as I like stepping in dog poo. But at least now I’ve cleared the first hurdle, which was understanding the Facebook philosophy: why be user-friendly when you can be as maddening as a swarm of midges? Once you get that straight, it’s a matter of breathing deeply and staying calm. And now at last I have a Facebook page, as well as a profile. I only recently learned the difference: the page is where you tell people how great your book is, the profile is where you tell them what you had for breakfast. For the moment my page says I’m username@create.page. When I try to put my own name there, I’m told ‘You’re not eligible.’ Do they deign to explain why? Of course not. Courtesy isn’t part of their vocabulary. After much searching, though, I gather I need my page to be ‘liked’ before I can really call it my own. 25 times, if I’ve understood correctly. So now I’m in the ignominious position of begging people – that’s you, dear reader – to ‘like’ my Facebook page in order for me to truly virtually exist. When I get to 100 likes, I’ll start to levitate.

You might be wondering why I put myself through this ordeal. The answer is simple: ads. Now, I’m not saying I’m actually going to do them, but I’m setting out to explore them. Facebook ads, apparently, provide an effective way of raising awareness of your book among the sort of readers likely to like it. They also cost money, so you have to be very careful how you do it. GD has told us about, and warned us away from, Google ads. Facebook could well be the same, so I’m approaching this the way I walk through a forest full of zombies in the dead of night. But one thing is clear: if I don’t do something, Perfume Island will be released to barely more effect than One Green Bottle. A pebble dropped in the ocean. Because getting reviews is only a fraction of the task – now I have to get people to notice that the book actually exists.

I’m pretty sure, as Perry Palin says, that in the end it’s all personal, a matter of gaining readers one by one. But I’m ready to give the other approach a try. Maybe I’ll chicken out, or be driven so mad by Facebook I’ll have to be locked away. Whatever happens, I’ll keep you updated on progress. In the meantime, I humbly beg you to nip over to Facebook and adore my page.

 

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book promotion, book reviews

Just Wanna Be Misunderstood

I think most of us small-time writers share at least one trait in common: we obsess over our reviews. I know I do. When a new review pops up, I scrutinize it, interrogate it for clues, for hidden meanings. Like a hermit living in a remote garrett, starving for news from the outside world, I read it over and over.

And it is, in fact, a completely pointless activity. Reviews are what they are. You can’t change them, and they may not even be all that important in terms of selling books (the subject is at least debatable.) There’s really no reason to read them at all unless you are one of those writers who plots his next book according to what worked in the last one—and if by worked, you mean earned positive feedback from reviewers.

I’m not, and I don’t. But I can’t deny my own fascination. Sometimes, even months later I’ll take them out and play with them, arranging them just so. Is this just an ego primp? Maybe. Though it’s often the the less-than-glowing reviews that keep drawing me back for another look. Some little comment, some bit of faint praise. What’s that supposed to mean? Why did he say that? Who says I’ve got pacing issues?

A while back, I received a review of Spark. It wasn’t bad. It was four stars and mostly positive. There were parts she found a little confusing (and very weird) but she praised the writing and the characters. She wasn’t wowed by the ending, which seemed incomplete to her (an occupational hazard. I tend to like a loose ending.) But the money quote, the one that knocked me over, came near the beginning:

“I have the oddest feeling walking away from this book that I’m not sure I can even begin to describe. Spark by Atthys J. Gage was not what I was expecting, and yet it hit the bullet points of everything it promised. Even now, half an hour after finishing the book, I sit here and marvel at what I just read in a strange state of confusion…”

(The boldface is my addition because, hey, read it!)

Near the end she added: “It was both better, and odder than I expected, and I was entertained.”

I can’t entirely explain why this made me so happy. I’m not one to value obscurity for its own sake. Ambiguity can be a powerful tool in writing, but it needs careful handling. It’s no good being abstruse if it’s just so people will assume you’ve got some heavy, brainy subplot going on.

Take it from me, Spark is not a particularly symbolic book. The story is pretty much right there on the page. I didn’t design it to be an allegory with deep hidden meanings. And yet, this reviewer found in it something so confusing that she marveled at it.  AND she still liked it.

All fiction is allegory. Real life, in fact, is rife with allegory, and even though we are usually at a loss to explain the hidden meaning that seems to underlie the mundane events of our lives, in transcendent moments we are at least aware of it, even profoundly so. And how do we typically respond to that glimmer of awareness? With confusion. A confusion so deep and disturbing that we marvel at it. Life is, perhaps, both better and odder than we expect it to be.

If a book can invoke that kind of confusion, even for one person? I’ll take that as a win.

Then again, maybe I just want to be misunderstood.

All right, enough of me indulging myself. How’s about you indulging yourselves for a while. Has a review ever changed your life or made you fundamentally rethink what you’ve been doing? It’s mostly just us scribblers here, so don’t worry. You have my permission to crow, just a little bit.

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book sales, Uncategorized

Selling Your Baby

Copyright Ben Cavanna

All dressed up and looking for a buyer                                                                                               (Photo credit Ben Cavanna)

 

“So you’ve written a book.” Foreboding voice in your head

In the olden days, seven years ago, you would have found an agent, endured participated in the editing process to make your manuscript the best written most marketable product it could be, and then sat back while your agent shopped your baby to the highest-bidding publisher. Your book would hit the shelves, and you’d laugh all the way to the bank in your brand new Ferrari.

“Wait. What?” You

Well, maybe it wasn’t ever that easy or profitable, but we all know the landscape has changed. Today, whether you’ve self-pubbed or kept your ego in tact through dozens of rejections and finally hooked up with the agent/publisher of your dreams, you know the weight of marketing your precious baby will fall on you. The author. Because that makes perfect sense.

Now you’re wandering helpless through unfamiliar and intimidating territory, wondering how to:

1. Find your potential readers

2. Reach your potential readers

3. Convince them to BUY YOUR BOOK!

Let’s look at conventional wisdom.

Reviews  You’ve heard you need reviews, lots of reviews, to sell your book. Maybe you have (or can recruit) a Street Team of willing friends who will read your brilliant manuscript and post 5✮ reviews on Amazon, B&N, Goodreads, their personal blogs, Starbucks’ bulletin boards, and FB posts including a photo of them holding reading your book. But are reviews really effective for selling books?

Who reads reviews? People who have already heard about a particular book, and are looking at it online. And how many readers are we talking about? According to a 2005 Gallup Poll, only 7% of readers choose a book based on reviews, so… maybe they’re not as influential as we’ve been led to think.

Blogs  There are bloggers who do book reviews and interviews. You could ask a few of them to interview you or write a review in exchange for an all expenses paid spa weekend a copy of your book. If they agree, and if they read your book, and if they write a review, their posts will slide through their followers’ Reader streams. If a title or picture catches a follower’s eye, or a follower just likes that blogger enough to read whatever they write, then they will be exposed to your book and they might consider buying it.

Online Marketing Experts  Many, many online “experts” prey on authors have developed programs they claim will dramatically increase your book sales. I listened to one of these guys on a webinar last week. (He has a “sure-fire” method he will be happy to share with you for only $597.) He used to sell Facebook ads. He says one of the options you can choose when you purchase a Facebook ad is to target the people who follow top selling authors you’ve identified in your genre who have FB pages. The author won’t be aware you’re doing it, but your ads will appear next to those followers’ FB Newsfeeds. Of course, this guy claims FB ads are the “most effective” way to market your book. (One word: AdBlock)

How many of the book ads that show up next to your FB Newsfeed do you read, much less click on to make a purchase? (GD Deckard and Atthys Gage share their experience with Google and Amazon ads on this very site, in Jousting Windmills and its comments.)

SO WHAT WORKS? Here’s what I think:

Finding and Reaching Your Readers  Common sense works here. If you write YA SciFi/Fantasy, and your followers are middle aged women and men, posting about your book on your blog, FB and Amazon book pages, Goodreads, Twitter, G+, Tumbler, IG, or Pinterest probably won’t sell books. Start closer to home; go where your potential audience is. Local schools (middle grade to junior college) have English teachers who might see the value of inviting a local author to talk about writing and publishing. Your local library might be interested in having a local author host a brief workshop on creative writing. They might be willing to pay a speaker’s fee. Even if you speak for free, you’re finding your audience. Sure, have books available to sign and sell, but set your goal at connecting with the people who can spread the word. If you incorporate things like decorations, costumes, snacks, and give-aways themed on the most exciting aspect of your book, you create something attendees will tell other people about.

Word of Mouth  When I get excited about something — a movie, a play, a restaurant, a book — like most people, I talk about it. I recommend it to my family, friends, and anyone else who’ll listen. If it’s a book, I buy copies as gifts. What author doesn’t appreciate that? What makes me excited enough to spread the word? Three things:

  1. Excellent quality: For a book, this means a well-written page-turner.
  2. A certain something…je ne sais quoi…the X Factor…”It”: Something out of the ordinary — not just weirdness — that catches a reader’s fancy. Consider Rowling’s Harry Potter or Weir’s The Martian. Subject matter? Voice? Novelty? Controversy?
  3. A Buzz: Everybody’s talking. Word is spreading like a viral video.

How do you create a buzz?  Well, a viral video would work. (When you figure out how to guarantee that, let me know, okay?)

A friend who began her marketing career 20 years ago at a publishing company, has her finger on the digital pulse. She says one highly effective marketing strategy is to engage the opinion of a “digital influencer” in your genre. These are celebrities whose tens of thousands of followers seek out their posts, read them, and take what they have to say seriously. A digital influencer’s recommendation starts a buzz. But my friend doesn’t suggest stealth bombing their followers with ads for your book; she says to build a relationship with the influencers by interacting with them, commenting on their posts, creating a conversation.

Look at marketing that works, and adapt it for your book. Since LOST first created an online world that treated Oceanic Airlines, the Dharma Initiative, and Widmore Labs as if they were real, movies like Interstellar and Independence Day 2 have used this technique to get people talking. Don’t make a normal, boring book trailer. Do something innovative.

Ultimately, marketing your book is far more than posting ads and links and waiting for the royalties to roll in. It’s about connecting with your potential readers and engaging them in your story’s world. We have a pretty good idea what doesn’t work, so take a look at all the successful marketing around you and make it work for you.

S.T. Ranscht is the co-author (with Robert P. Beus) of ENHANCED, the first book in a YA SciFi trilogy. She is currently working on the “final” edit prior to re-submitting their baby to a requesting agent. Her short story, Cat Artist Catharsis, earned Honorable Mention in Curtis Bausse’s 2016 Book a Break Short Story Contest, and will be published in its upcoming anthology, The Cattery. Her online presence can be felt on WordPress at Space, Time, and Raspberries, Facebook, and Twitter @SueStarlight. You can follow ENHANCED on Facebook and Twitter @EnhancedYASyFy.

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