book promotion, book reviews

Ten Thousand Page-Reads. (Or K.U. For Dummies)

The title of is this post is possibly enigmatic to most, but to anyone who has a book or books signed up on Kindle Unlimited, the reference is clear.

What’s a page-read? What’s Kindle Unlimited?

Okay. For those who don’t know already: when you publish an eBook on Amazon, you have the option of signing it up with Kindle Unlimited. That means Kindle Unlimited subscribers—for a ten dollar monthly fee—can download and read your book for free, (as well as all the other eBooks signed up with Kindle Unlimited) and you, the author, receive a payment for each page read.

Yes, they can keep track. No, you probably don’t want to think too hard about that.

How much per page? Amazon sets a new rate every month, but then it also adds a certain amount from the Kindle Direct Publishing Select Global Fund (which—if I understand it correctly— is based on the total number of pages read of all KU books by all KU subscribers.) Bottom line? It varies slightly from month to month, but as a ballpark figure, I assume about 45% of a penny per page. And, KU is actually fairly generous in the way it counts page reads. My book Spark runs 345 pages in paperback. KU counts it as 408 pages. (For the record, a complete read of Spark on KU earns me about $1.80. Selling the ebook earns me about $2 in royalties.)

One important rule: if your ebook is signed up for Kindle Unlimited, it must be exclusive to Amazon. You cannot sell it on Kobo or Barnes and Noble or Smashwords or anywhere else. For many authors, this is a deal breaker. It’s also the reason why most actual publishers do not use it. They don’t want to cut off any potential sales avenues.

In practice, KU is made for independent publishers. And while exclusivity may be distasteful for some authors, most ebooks sold in the global marketplace are sold through Amazon. (I heard 70% somewhere, but don’t ask me to back that up.) Personally, I didn’t find it a difficult decision. I am happy to have my independent titles on KU.

Being signed up with KU also allows you to run promotions, including making the book free for up to five days out of every ninety. If you promote your giveaway, you can end up with thousands of downloads. Both times I’ve given Spark away, I’ve topped 3,000 downloads. This may not seem like anything to crow about, (and I’ll address that question further on). But let me just focus first on the immediate results of that kind of giveaway. Both times, it has resulted in a small sales spike after the giveaway. (Very small in real numbers. The first time I think I sold 12 copies, the second time only eight. But compared to my normal sales, which can include months of goose eggs, it’s a spike.)

In addition, giveaways get me page-reads on KU. Faced with a temporarily free ebook, some subscribers choose to download it through KU rather than downloading it for free. It makes no difference to them, I suppose. It’s free either way. But it makes a big difference for the author. During the month following my last giveaway, I topped 10,000 page-reads. This is roughly equivalent to 25 people reading my book all the way through. It also means I made about $45 in royalties.

Now just for a bracing dose of reality, I know most of the 3000 people who download my book onto their Kindle or their cell phone are NOT going to read it. A lot of those folks have hundreds of free books stored up on their devices, and they keep adding new ones, which probably only serves to bump the older books lower on the priority list (newer books are shinier books). The only reads that we can be sure of are the ones that come through KU and the ones that leave a review, or at least a rating, on Amazon or Goodreads.

My giveaways have generated a few reviews on Amazon and some ratings on Goodreads, but very few. Reviews are rare enough anyway, but I think they are even rarer for readers who download the books for free. I had a review of Flight of the Wren after my last giveaway of that book—a terrific review—that actually said:

“This is a great book! Usually I don’t write reviews for the free/cheap books I get from the various email groups because they are not usually worth reviewing.”

It’s just human nature, I guess. We tend to value things in direct relation to the price we pay for them, and we sometimes assume that free stuff is free because nobody would pay for it. So the whole giveaway thing is not an unqualified positive. Sure, I would prefer it if people were buying the books and lavishing me with reviews, but that ain’t happening. At least this way, there are people reading the books. Some of those people are going to like them and will maybe read the next one.

Some of them might even pay real money for the privilege. Crazy, I know, but it could happen.

book promotion, book sales, Writers Co-op



I get these ads in my Facebook feed from time to time (all right, every day) suggesting that my lackluster book sales are the result of my unimaginative marketing plan and my lack of vision. There are fortunes to be made on the internet and, with their guidance, I too can board that boat I keep missing, grab the brass ring, quit my day job, start drinking the good stuff and enjoying wafer-thin after dinner chocolates whenever I damn well like.

I am, in case you haven’t guessed, skeptical. I have seen so many of these pitches—and yes, even done a seminar or two—and I always, ALWAYS find the same thing: tired platitudes about perseverance and “giving the people what they want.” Find out who your core audience is, they tell me, and then market directly to them. Grow your mailing list (they love to use grow as a transitive* verb, it’s market-speak doncha know?) Offer free stuff! Find your niche! Become a brand! Write a blog with a cute and catchy name! People will WANT to buy whatever you sell because they will want to buy YOU!

Or, something like that. Maybe it all sounds so unlikely to me because I really don’t find being marketed to at all appealing. You want me to buy your stuff. I get it. Don’t try to razzle-dazzle me with bling or tchotchkes or other crap I didn’t want in the first place, and don’t try and tell me that I’m part of some special club now, and I should hashtag you every time I twit. All you’ll end up doing is making me feel insulted. I don’t want to be critical of the general population (gen pop in eerily-appropriate prison parlance) but if this approach really works with a sizable number of them, well, then, I guess it’s not much wonder that I can’t connect.

Do I sound old and irritable? Check. And check.

A musician I’ve never heard of pitched my feed this morning. She makes six figures working from home (homeschooling mother of four!) selling her CD’s on the internet. She doesn’t perform live or do personal appearances (homeschooling mother of four!) It’s all internet-based marketing. And yet—six figures.

Okay. So sell me. Tell me one new thing in your pitch and I’ll sign up for your marketing course.

Probably my inner skeptic automatically prevents me from approaching this sort of thing with an open mind, but honestly? She’s got nothing. As far as I can tell, her big reveal (and yes, they love to use reveal as a noun) can be summed up in one sentence: “Why be a little fish in a big pond when you can be a big fish in a small pond?” In other words, find a niche.

Niche marketing isn’t a particularly new idea. Back in the days when brick-and-mortar bookstores (remember those?) were still a thing, there was a lot of handwringing about the big chain stores—Barnes and Noble, Borders, Waldens—driving the independents out of business. As it turned out, they had all underestimated the white whale lurking beneath the swells, a little thing called, but I digress. A lot of independent bookstores did go out of business, especially the be-everything-to-everyone-get-your-bestsellers-for-thirty-percent-off-but-we-also-have-a-great-backlist-and-you-can-get-a-cup-of-coffee type of bookstores. Curiously, it was often the small niche stores that survived. The New Age Salon in Santa Fe. The Knitting Book Nook in Seattle. Cats Are People, Too in Minneapolis (plus Cats Are People, Two in St. Paul.) I made all of those up, of course, but it was a real phenomenon. Providing a specialized list of books to a very specific audience can be a successful enterprise, if you’re not too fussy about your definition of success.

And with the internet at our twitchy fingertips, such specialized stores should be even more viable. Now you don’t even need a store, and you can reach millions of potential customers. Our Homeschooling Mother of Four’s niche? Celtic Heavy Metal. Christian Celtic Heavy Metal, as it happens. I admit, it’s hard for me to write those words without feeling my eyes roll, but hey, everybody likes something. I’d plug her website, but I don’t want to get curmudgeon all over her nice, shiny, heavy Celtic Christian vibe. Frankly, it was all a little slick and predictable for my tastes. She can play, and it’s a very professional production for a homemade disk, but—six figures? Really? Is she counting the ones after the decimal point?

(Yeah. That did sound bitter. I withdraw the question, your honor.)

And besides. If she’s making a hundred thousand dollars doing what she loves best, following her calling, etc, then why is she wasting her time hawking some by-the-numbers marketing program to wannabes like me? Wait. Is it because she wants to share her innovative strategies with others? Cuz she’s been so fortunate and now she wants to give something back? It’s amazing how many marketing gurus have tried that line on me. And every time they do, I feel my brain getting a little bit smaller, atrophying in its bony shell.

So niche marketing, yes or no? It certainly has many proponents. There was a guy the other day telling me that selling books on Amazon wasn’t necessarily good, because you might be selling to the wrong people. Amazon’s search-and-sell algorithms are keyed to recognize patterns. Did consumer A purchase your book? Okay. What else has she purchased? Is there a pattern? What else might she want? How can we steer her to those things? It’s all about your target audience, and selling books to people outside of your target audience only confuses the algorithms. It gums up the works, dilutes the information stream. Better to sell fewer books but to the right audience. That way, the marketing machinery will recognize your audience members and find more of them for you.

I think that’s what he was saying. I glazed over a bit around paragraph three but that was the gist. You need to focus on your target audience. Also, write a LOT of books. One a month if possible. (And no, I’m not making that part up.)

I can’t do that, but maybe I could do something like it. I have two thirds of a YA historical trilogy about the Minoan civilization. It’s fun, and has lots of magic and adventure. Plus, did I mention the Minoan civilization? You can’t get much more niche-y than that. By the time I finish book three, it’ll be somewhere in the neighborhood of 1300 pages, but I can break it up into fragments, 200 pages here, 150 pages there. That’s gotta be good for at seven or eight books. I can saturate all the pre-Hellenic Greece websites, twitter-blitz every website about ancient matrifocal cultures, haunt the linear-A chatrooms. Who knows what could happen? I could catch on, and soon a whole herd of bookish kids and history geeks will be hanging on my next installment. And then, the movie deal. Maybe Miyazaki. It’s ready made for Studio Ghibli.

And then, while plotting out this strategy, I see this quote from, of all people, Hayao Miyazaki. ”In order to grow your audience,” he says, “you must betray their expectations.”

Yeah. I don’t know whether that’s really true in the age of the instant entertainment, but it should be. It really should. Otherwise, what tipping point have we gone past where people only want more of the same? Only want what worked for them before? Cuz, wow! Culture-wise? That’s an ocean that’s barely knee-deep.


*Yes, I know grow can be a transitive verb when we’re talking about string beans or snapdragons, but the modern fixation with “growing your business” or “growing your client base” is definitely market-speak.

book promotion

Many a slip…


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.

book promotion, book sales, Literary Agents

Secret Agent Plan


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.

book promotion, book sales

Publishing Through a Start-up Independent Publisher

Our guest post today is from Tom Wolosz, writer, hiker and geologist, who kindly proposed to document his trek through the ups and downs of Bookkus…
[Let me preface this by saying that I’ve enjoyed working with Bookkus, and hold no hard feelings toward anyone there. The publishing business is tough, and everyone gives it their best shot. So I won’t use any names, but will be honest about my experience. I will always be grateful for their support, and for publishing my book.]
     My history is similar to what a number of others have described here – after beginning my novel Agony of the Gods I joined Book Country. For about a year it was a great site – lots of good friends critiquing each other’s work, lots of good advice for me. When I finished about the 6th draft I started submitting to publishers with zero success. Truthfully, it still needed a lot of work, and, since I was an unpublished writer, at over 400,000 words it was way too long for an established publishing house to take as chance on.
     At about that time a comment appeared in a thread I was following. A publisher was looking for manuscripts, but he was following a new model – the readers, as opposed to an editor, would decide what to publish. Sounded interesting so I decided to give it a try. (I should also mention that at about this time there was a major change at Book Country. The original site administrator left, and there appeared to be a shift to pushing their self-publishing services. This soured me on the site because I’ve always felt that pushing self-publishing is a bit dishonest, but I won’t go into that here.)
     I was soon devoting myself entirely to Bookkus. The concept is fascinating. Let the reviewers decide! Submit your ms. and if you get about 10-20 reviews and they average 3.5/5 or better you’ve got a shot at getting published. Now it isn’t a slam dunk because the initial reviews are available to the author. The publisher realized that very often folks might write a good review so as not to be cruel, while not really feeling the book is worth publishing. So the next step was a closed discussion. At this point the author is excluded from the group so the reviewers can be frank in their comments.
     I really enjoyed taking part. I read a number of books, many of which were clearly not publishable (first drafts with more grammatical errors and misspellings than not, poorly thought out plots filled with non sequiturs, etc.). In reviewing them I always tried to be helpful despite giving them poor ratings (what we all wish publishers would do). For those that moved on to the closed session I found the point-counterpoint discussions over whether or not to publish fascinating. Although one thought that struck me early on was that I really had no skin in the game. My cold, hard cash wasn’t on the table which made it a bit easier to argue “publish!” In the end two of the three books I thought were publishable were accepted, although only one has actually seen the light of day.
     In the meantime Agony was getting some good reviews. It went into closed session and the result was a decision to publish! Obviously, I was thrilled.
     The process after that was a bit stressful. I think the biggest problem was that in working with a start-up you’re dealing with folks who have limited experience themselves.
     My first editor started by telling me she loved the book (which really wasn’t true – there was a hole in the website program which allowed me to sneak in and read the publish-or-not discussion), and then told me to cut it by 1/3 and totally rewrite one of the main characters including discarding her origin story! Distressed, I contacted the publisher. He told me that the relationship between author and editor is often argumentative, and that I should just carefully explain to her why I felt I couldn’t follow her advice. I did, and the response I got was “Just do what I say!” That pretty much stalled progress on my book. At the same time another book I had reviewed was in publish-or-not discussion, and despite an 11 – 0 vote in favor by the reviewers, my editor insisted it was horrible and should not be published. That put the publisher in a bind because the Bookkus model is “let the readers decide.” In the end, he over-ruled my editor, and the decision was publish. My editor then resigned.
     A couple of weeks later I had a new editor, and we worked well together. Whenever he saw a problem we discussed it and reached a conclusion satisfactory to all. Granted, one reason for the big difference between editors consisted of this one being hired by the publisher on a per book basis, so I also assume his attitude was to be helpful and give advice but if I didn’t want to take it, well that was my problem.
     In the meantime, the publisher was looking for cover art. We tried a few for-hire illustrators (lots of websites out there offering cover art), but found either nothing of interest or limited ability to modify their graphic art (if they had something with potential, modifications we asked for were beyond their capability). The publisher finally did it himself. He came up with a simple cover illustration which really did the trick. I’ve always been very pleased with it.
     The final step was working with the line editor. This guy was not as bad as my first editor, but was close. I’m pretty sure he had written a book himself, which only added to his know-it-all attitude (granted to be a writer, myself included, you need a pretty large ego), and he did make some valuable comments (I do greatly overuse ‘that’) and corrections. Unfortunately, he had absolutely no concept of science fiction. In some cases I politely explained his mistakes, in others I just ignored him. He was also in love with a computer program which counts the number of times a word is used and highlights perceived overuse. I do know I often “fall in love” with words and overuse them, but recognizing this foible I work to correct it. Unfortunately, many times there are only a limited number of choices. My line editor would apparently run to the thesaurus, find a word I had not used and substitute it for mine. The problem was he ignored the first rule of the thesaurus game – when you find a nifty synonym check the dictionary to make sure it really fits. I must admit there were a number of times my annoyance was curbed by my chuckling at the words he chose. In the end I accepted about 10% of his suggestions.
     Well, Agony of the Gods was finally published in January of 2014. This is where the real problem with a small independent publisher comes into play. I think the publisher’s hope was “build it and they will come,” – that the lure of a book chosen by the reading community would be enough to ensure sales. Well, it hasn’t happened yet.
     We went through the free kindle version giveaways (a couple of times) and there was an initial spurt of good reviews, but things never seemed to take off. On the Bookkus website my book is up to around 280 members (to what degree that translates to sales I have no idea). The publisher contacted me about a book tour, but that failed to materialize despite my being willing to foot the bill. I think the problem comes down to the limited number of reviews. My book has 31 on Goodreads and 15 on Amazon, but without 50 – 100 or more it appears to be difficult to generate interest for signings, readings, etc. So there has only been very limited marketing which is a major problem.
     I also set up a Webpage running a blog about writing, and while I do get a number of visits every week, there’s no evidence that this has helped market my book.
     Sales overall have been meager, a few copies here, a few there (mostly Kindle). How does it stack up to the other Bookkus books? Hard to say since I can only look at the Amazon listings, but they all appear about the same, maybe a bit better than mine.
     What’s the overall outlook? Again, hard to say. The publisher has pretty much let the website float since November, when his last new post went up. Having now published 7 books, the publisher may be out of cash, or just waiting to see if anything takes off before pulling the plug. I don’t know, but at this point all I can do is wait and see.
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.

book promotion, book sales, Uncategorized

I’ve Looked at Publishing From Both Sides Now.

A few years ago, when I was relentlessly querying anything that moved trying to find a literary agent, a woman I hardly knew asked me a simple question: Why? As in what can an agent get you? What advantage do you imagine professional publication offers over self-publication?

At the time, the questions seemed a bit naïve, maybe even disingenuous. Publication had to mean something. It meant getting past the gatekeepers of the industry. It meant acceptance. It also meant professionalism. How could that not be better than self-publishing? One was rolling out a sleek new model on a showroom floor; the other was stuffing a note in a bottle and throwing it over Niagara Falls.

And yeah. Part of me still feels that way. I have been professionally published (and will be again soon) and I have self-published and let me tell you, there ain’t as much difference as you might think.

My first book, Spark, was published by Lycaon Press. It was professionally edited by the staff at Lycaon. Victoria Miller produced a first-rate professional cover. With the book’s release, I was launched on a blog-tour (six blogs? four blogs? I don’t remember) with interviews and excerpts and a couple of guest blog pieces. It felt so professional. I was part of a stable of authors. I received royalties and quarterly reports.

Well…yeah, technically. Although actually it took a long time before I got paid my first royalties. And—kaching!—let’s just say they didn’t exactly pay for dinner that night. And I don’t mean dinner at a nice restaurant, I mean dinner. Like whatever we happened to be having for dinner that night, my quarterly royalties probably didn’t cover it. And I don’t think my sales results were exceptionally bad. During March, the paperback of Spark was featured for 25% off at the Lycaon website. It sold eight copies, and the owner congratulated me on having a good month.


Shelf esteem.

Just before publishing my second book, Lycaon folded up their tents and got out of town. So there I was. Two books with all the professional trimmings and no publisher. So, I self-published. You know the routine: Kindle, Createspace, etc, etc. I had an advantage, of course, in that I didn’t need to hire and editor or cover artist, but otherwise, I was right back at square one.

And that’s exactly how it felt. I blogged, and I tweeted, and I maintained a Facebook presence, but I was pretty much just a lonely little bottle floating in an ocean, with countless other little bottles all bobbing around with me.

When I first contemplated self-publishing, that is precisely what killed my enthusiasm for the idea. According to Amazon’s own figures, there are over 3.7 million books available in the Kindle Store. If you spent a brief 5 seconds on each title, it would take you over seven months (no sleeping) to browse the entire stock—and by that time, there would be several hundred thousand new titles to look over. While this is a boon for readers (maybe), for authors it’s horrifying. The odds of being plucked—even once—from this vast sea are, well, staggering.

As far as self-pubbing versus traditional, there are some differences. Free editing and artwork are very nice perks, and it does feel like more of a thing—you are professionally and officially published. But as for the rest of it, I haven’t seen significantly better sales from one approach or the other. Either way, it’s a long, hard journey. There are some advantages to self-publishing, too. For one, you can set your own prices (I was never happy with how much Lycaon was charging) and collect a greater percentage of royalties. This also comes in handy when trying to run a promotion or offer a discount. Or when handing out review copies—most publishers will make a number of Advanced Reading Copies available, but if you’re your own publisher, you can decide this stuff for yourself.

But it’s the ways in which the two approaches are the same that tells the real tale. Either way, you will be primarily responsible for spreading the word about your book, for having a platform of some sort, for social media stuff. And (sorry to be a wet blanket) either way the odds are not in your favor. Success requires luck and perseverance. And perspective. These days, success might require setting very modest goals and giving yourself a lot of time to achieve them.

And really, there’s nothing wrong with that. You wanted to write? So write. No one said it was going to be easy.

In case you missed it, yeah, I’m mostly talking to myself here.