book promotion, book sales, self-publishing

The power of a newsletter. I hope.

person-writing-letter-with-metal-quill

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

Ill-defined and disreputable?

novella

‘Sir, what’s the German for notice?’ ‘Notiz.’ ‘No tits?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Really, sir? None at all?’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘You just said, “No tits”, sir. Do mean, like, absolutely flat?’ ‘Any more of that, Bausse, and you’re in detention.’

That this and similar episodes are what spring to mind most readily when I think of German at school may well mean that my mind is as puerile now as it was back then. Nonetheless, by way of association, and with much effort, I recall other details too: the scarred wooden desks, the dingy yellow walls and the hapless features of Mr. Graham, whose life we made such a misery.

Also a book with a pale blue cover, The German Novelle, which presumably I read. Like pretty much everything else I studied at that time, I don’t remember a thing about it, except that the Germans were the first to take the novella form, originally established in Italy, and turn it into something with a specific set of characteristics, different from those of the novel. Notably – and here I turn not to my memory but Wikipedia – it is ‘restricted to a single, suspenseful event, situation, or conflict leading to an unexpected turning point (wendepunkt), provoking a logical but surprising end.’

Importantly, length is not a criterion. A Novelle could run to several hundred pages. But these days, when we use the word novella in English, length seems to be the determining feature. And I must admit that when I set out to write one, what I had in mind was something in the order of 30,000 words. But to reason only in terms of length would be a mistake, and run the risk of validating Carl E. Reed’s apothegm of wince number 69: ‘A novella is a book that ran out of steam.’

Stephen King has called the novella ‘an ill-defined and disreputable literary banana republic’. This hasn’t prevented him from writing several himself, though he points out the difficulty of selling them in the commercial world, being too long for a magazine and too short for a book. While this may indeed be a drawback, it makes the novella an ideal candidate for self-publishing, where a common strategy is to make it free in order to draw readers in to the rest of a series. This was indeed my reason for writing Closed Circle. I’ve read of that strategy many times – now I aim to test it out myself.

Not for a while, though. Because although I’ve finished a version that might pass muster, I’m not satisfied yet. It needs a good dose of improvement, for which I’ll need to let it simmer subconsciously – or whatever books do when we’re not actually working on them – for a couple of months or so. Basically, I didn’t realise when I embarked on it how hard it would be. All writing, of course, turns out more difficult than the initial vision promises, but I grappled with this one a lot. Not that it ran out of steam, on the contrary – it’s got a bit too much. I need to tighten the valves a bit, fix a gasket or two. It might gain a few thousand words in the process, but that won’t matter. It’ll still be a novella, because strangely enough, without thinking about it, I ended up with something close to the definition in The German Novelle. Maybe I did remember something more than the German for notice after all.

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book promotion

Out of the frying pan, into the fire.

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Creation to marketing, obsessive-compulsive all the way. 

I’m working through my novella, revising. Except for one or two chapters in the middle, I’d truly thought it finished, except for commas, etc. Now I find my logic in one area less than acceptable. It sounds pretty good if you don’t think too hard, but when I pick it apart I am unhappy with it. I never did feel it was strong enough, and I’ve also thought I could wring a lot more fun out of it. I hadn’t figured out what to do about it until just the other day.

Motivations are what I fixate on: Does this really make sense? It meets a need, but is it essentially bullshit? My bullshit meter, one to ten, tells me certain behaviors as a basis for subsequent doings are about a five. I still like what I have in general, but I love my new idea. I’m going to fold them together. They do not conflict, they work hand-in-glove.

My first question is: Do you ever feel ready? Do you ever stop cramming your back pockets with scribbled sticky notes?

Chapters one to five are done. Six and seven will get the just-dreamt-up stuff plowed in. The remainder (another seven chapters) is, I believe, pretty OK. I have avoided decisions near the end by treating my novella as a cliffhanger: This might happen, it might not. (My characters may only discuss it. They do a lot of discussing.)

The full book will have resolutions to all the speculation. Nonsense that I’ve removed to create a shortie will be restored, and the second half will be completely new. There will be some overlap, most of it in the first quarter, but the novella is meant as a teaser, and will be cheap, perhaps ninety-nine cents, or maybe even a give-away.

Where to publish? Let’s talk about that.

I see ISBNs are pricey unless you buy a block of them. Does anyone have a number to sell? Should we buy a block as a group and share them out?

KindleScout looks interesting. It feels rather like a game to me. Find something great, help it along with a vote in favor. It takes no time, you’re looking at a blurb and a few paragraphs. On Scribophile, however, is a negative review concerning quality of the offerings:

“. . . many of the covers and descriptions are not professional and do nothing to promote the book. One doesn’t even have a picture or a layout, just the title and a sentence describing it. I had to look at it to figure out what was what, which I wouldn’t have done if I weren’t coming back here to comment. Same for the blurb. It’s repetitive, and it’s boring. The sample chapter has no paragraphs and it’s unreadable – spelling, grammar, spaces between sentences.” A few pieces like this would discourage me away real fast.

What are your thoughts on KindleScout/Kindle Select?

Here is the link for an interesting looking post on marketing yourself. I haven’t read it yet, but the response on Scribophile is enthusiastic.

My climb-every-mountain/follow-every-rainbow neuroses may have been counterproductive until now. From here they may be a plus.

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book promotion, writing technique

What would you do?

dilemma

In my last post, I wrote of my tribulations regarding the release of Perfume Island, which effectively put a halt to the whole process, forcing me to come up with another strategy. (Writing that, I realize I’ve made progress: at least I had a strategy. With One Green Bottle there was none.) Having read of the pulling power of reader magnets, I thought, ‘Yep, that’s the way to go. Offer something free to draw readers in, so then they’ll buy the rest of the series. And while I’m at it, make it permanently free and run a few Facebook ads to promote it.’

I could do that with OGB, my publisher having kindly returned the rights to me. But hey, it was a lot of work, so while I’m happy enough with the idea of periodic giveaways, I balk a little at making it permafree. A novella, on the other hand, would be perfect.  Less work, and people don’t need a full length book to see if they like your writing. 30,000 words is plenty.

So that’s my current, top priority WIP. Closed Circle, prequel to OGB. A 15-chapter murder mystery. Magali isn’t a detective yet, but she’s right there in the thick of it.

A novella, I’m discovering, isn’t easy. You’ve got to cram it all into half the space. In this case, a dozen characters of more or less equal importance, the usual twists and surprises, and above all an in-depth insight into Magali herself. After all, she’s the mainstay of the whole series, so the reader has to connect with her and like her enough to continue.  Technically, all that is a challenge. My initial breezy assumption that I could dash it off in a month has been drastically revised.

Still, assuming I manage to sort it out more or less satisfactorily, it might be ready for release in January or February 2017. So my question is this: when do I release Perfume Island?  I could do it tomorrow if I wish, but as things currently stand, it would go pretty much unnoticed. So I like the idea of having Closed Circle ready first. Is there a logic to that? Not really. But if I’m going to promote anything (and bearing in mind that Facebook ads cost money), it seems to make more sense to concentrate on promoting the free magnet.

Now, I could of course do that later, but do I want Perfume Island to be met with the resounding silence that greeted OGB?  Obviously not.

So there you have it – my marketing dilemma in all its glorious confusion.  Any advice will be welcome!

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