Turn Browsers Into Buyers

by James Scott Bell

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat.
Please put a penny in the old man’s hat.
And if you are promoting, I’m sure it’s no offense
If you sell the man some Kindle books for 99¢.

Yes, ’tis the season for self-indulgent poetry, and a couple of announcements.

The first is that my fourth Mike Romeo thriller, Romeo’s Fight, is set to release on January 7th. It’s available for preorder for the special launch price of $2.99. In February it will go up to $3.99. Naturally I would appreciate it if you would hop over to Amazon and reserve your copy. On launch day you’ll get it automatically delivered to your Kindle.

Click here to preorder.

(You international readers can find it in your Amazon store by pasting this ASIN number into the search box: B07L9DLGVF)

Welcome back!

Romeo’s Fight, like all the Romeo thrillers, can be read on its own. But if you’re one of those who likes to read a series in order, I’ve got some good news: for the next two weeks the first three Romeos are all priced at 99¢. Now’s the time to hop on this International Thriller Writers Award winning train. The order is:

1. Romeo’s Rules
2. Romeo’s Way
3. Romeo’s Hammer

Romeo’s Fight opens this way:

“So you’re Mike Romeo,” the guy said. “You don’t look so tough.”

I was sitting poolside at the home of Mr. Zane Donahue, drinking a Corona, and wearing a Hawaiian shirt, shorts, flip-flops and sunglasses. I was the perfect embodiment of L.A. mellow, trying to enjoy a pleasant afternoon. Now this shirtless, tatted-up billboard was planted in front of me, clenching and unclenching his fists.

“I’m really quite personable once you get to know me,” I said.

“I don’t think you’re tough,” he said.

“I can recite Emily Dickinson,” I said. “Can you?”

He squinted. Or maybe that’s how his eyes were naturally. His reddish hair was frizzy. With a little care and coloring, it would have made a nice clown ’do. He had a flat nose, one that had been beaten on pretty good somewhere. In a boxing ring, the cage, or prison.

“Who?” he said.

“You don’t know Emily Dickinson?”

Blank stare.

“Then you’re not so tough yourself,” I said.

I took a sip of my brew and focused on the devil tat above his left nipple. Underneath were the words DIE SCUM.

So let’s talk a bit about marketing, specifically two items: the browsing sequence and the building of buzz.

We start with the old-school bookstore browser. She walks into Barnes & Noble, perhaps with a title in mind, but takes a moment to look at the New Release table. What is the first thing that attracts her attention? The cover. If the cover has the name of an author she’s read before, and likes, that book gets picked up first. Otherwise, she might check out a book by someone she doesn’t know simply because of the cover design.

(This is exactly how I discovered Harlan Coben. I vividly remember going into Crown Books and looking at the New Release table, and one cover just jumped out and grabbed my shirt and said, “Open me!” It was the cover of Tell No One, and it was stunning, not just because of the color and title font, but also because Harlan’s name could not be seen. This counter-intuitive distinction set it apart from every other cover on that table.)

So what next? She will look at the dust jacket copy. Does that copy sizzle? Make the plot irresistible? If so, the next place she’ll turn is to the opening page. And of course we know what that has to do. Just check out our First Page Critique archives.

If she likes what she reads, our browser will look at the price. $28? Yikes! Ah, but B&N is offering it at a 30% new release discount. That might just be enough to close the sale.

It’s roughly the same with online browsing. Cover, book description, the “Look Inside” feature to sample the first pages, and the price. Understand that sequence as you plan your marketing.

So what about the second consideration, building buzz? The two primary venues for this are social media and the email list. The one overarching consideration is: Don’t annoy.

You annoy by only talking about your book and how great it is going to be. If all we see on social media is variations on “buy my book!” it’s not buzz, but “buzz off” we’re going to create.

My rule of thumb on social media is 90/10. Ninety percent of the time be, gasp, social, providing good content so people are glad to have you around. Then when a book comes out or you have other such news, you have the trust and toleration of your followers.

Everyone knows and touts the essentiality of the fan email list. It takes years to build a substantial list, which you do by a) writing great books; b) having a systematic way for readers to sign up; and c) making the actual content of your communication a pleasure to read.

So what do you do if you are just starting out and have no fan base? If you’re traditionally published, work in concert with your publisher and come up with a plan. While there are still physical bookstores around, introduce yourself locally and set up a book signing. Your publisher might be able to arrange a regional tour (travel expenses on you). Are book signings worth it? All pro authors can tell you stories about book signings gone awry (see this post from TKZ emeritus Joe Moore), but when you’re a newbie, you pay your dues.

For both traditional and self-publishing writers: send personalized emails to everyone you know, politely requesting they take a shot on your book and, if so moved, a) leave a review on Amazon; b) tell their friends about it; and c) sign up for your email list which, you assure them, won’t be spammy or too frequent. (My rule of thumb here is once-a-month, give or take.)

We all know how hard it is to get a message through amidst the din and dither of the madding crowd. Just remember to keep the main thing the main thing: write excellent books. That’s the only ironclad, long-tail secret to a career. Buzz and marketing help get you an introduction. They can turn browsers into buyers. But it’s your books that turn buyers into fans.

This is my last post of 2018. To my blogmates and all our marvelous TKZ readers: Merry Christmas and a Carpe Typem New Year!


24 thoughts on “Turn Browsers Into Buyers

  1. “it’s not buzz, but “buzz off” we’re going to create.”
    True, and very annoying when writers do this. And sometimes, when writers DO try to add value and not just tout their books, they send emails or posts that are too long and you click away before you finish.

    BTW, it doesn’t get as much consideration as some other aspects of selling books, but I appreciate how you take the time to list your book series titles in order. I realize there are people out there who don’t care if they read books in order, but as a compulsive person, I require reading a book series in order, and it saves a lot of time when the author makes it easy for the reader to know what the book order is. That too, can cinch the sale.

    Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and Happy Writing to you and to all!

    • “Brevity is the soul of wit,” says Polonius, even as he prattles on. You’re right, BK. Leave us have less prattling!

      I’m like you. I like to start a series at the beginning. Kindle Direct Publishing will do the list and numbers for you if you put the series info into your setup.

      See you in 2019!

  2. I hope more people take your 90/10 practice to heart. I’ve also heard it’s OK to go 80/20. I just wish your series was available for my Nook, for a variety of reasons (and yes, I have a Kindle app, but it’s not the same.) I’m a firm believer in going wide, because who knows where a reader will find me, and I need them all!
    On a “housekeeping note” — in your bio, where it says ” You can be the first to know about his new releases by going HERE.” the link is broken.
    Oh, and Merry Christmas!

  3. Good morning, Jim. Thanks for the link to Romeo’s Fight. I just pre-ordered and am looking forward to reading it. I enjoyed the first three in the series.

    I really appreciate your ideas and counseling on marketing. I read them carefully and make mental notes.

    I hesitate to add the next comment – you are probably already aware – a fellow Irishman, David Gaughran – blogs on Kindle marketing and goes into it in great detail. I always think of you when I’m reading his blogs, because of your academic approach to research.

    Merry Christmas to you and your family. Have a successful and joyous New Year!

    • Thanks, Steve, and all good Christmas wishes back to you.

      Yes, I’ve long been aware of David Gaughran. He’s a meticulous researcher and knows his stuff. I try to keep things simple, concentrating on what works best (starting with the book itself) so as not to get a stress-drag on my writing. I even wrote a book about that, Marketing for Writers Who Hate Marketing. Ha!

  4. Merry Christmas, Jim!

    The 90/10 rule is where it’s at. Nothing’s worse than endless book promos, she says as she adds her Kindle sale to her next post. Haha. 😉

  5. Merry Christmas, Jim!

    Love your 90/10 rule and strongly agree it’s the way to go. When you are selling, you’re asking the reader to do something (namely buy, but it could be to leave a review or share the book), keep that down to 10% of the time, which means the other 90% of the time *you* are giving fun, engaging, entertaining, and/or informative content.

    • Well put, Dale. There’s the insurance salesman type who never stops (e.g., Ned Ryerson in Groundhog Day). OTOH, there are insurance salesmen who are good party guests, who people like to have around. When the people need insurance, they know who they like.

  6. And a very Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Happy Holidays to you, Mr. Bell. So glad I connected with your blog.

  7. I truly appreciate your approach, Jim. It makes sense to my cluttered mind. 🙂

    My first thought when I got your newsletter a couple of days ago: A new Romeo!!! Hooray!! I can count the number of times I’ve gone straight from a newsletter to a pre-order on one hand. Really. And I just bought the one I’d already read from the Prime Lending library, because I Want Them All.

  8. Pingback: Turn Browsers Into Buyers | Loleta Abi

  9. Just ordered the Romeos & look forward to a lot of reading over the holidays!

    This blog has been a real gift to me all year. Thank you.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

  10. Hi, Jim. I love your columns. In fact, I loved this one so much I went to look at your Mike Romeo books. You really know how to suck in the reader. I read the entire sample from the look inside (which I never do. I usually just read enough to know whether I want to buy it.) Anyway, I wound up buying all the series and pre-ordering the new one. And then I went and bought your Conflict and Suspense book. So thanks for letting us know.

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