With a Little Help from My Friends

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

NEWSFLASH!

MOST AUTHORS HATE SELF-PROMOTION!

All right, so that’s not news to anyone at TKZ.

Truth is we’d rather parade naked down the mall than sit at a lonely table full of books in front of Barnes & Noble, directing people to the restroom.

But we gotta do it sometimes if we want to sell books.

One way to make promotion less painful is to join with other authors.

WHY?

  1. Misery loves company (just kidding!).
  2. Being in front an audience by yourself is scary. Being in front of audience with colleagues is easier.
  3. A solo appearance means you carry 100% of the responsibility to entertain the audience. Join with other authors and that splits the responsibility up.
  4. More authors draw more interest…unless you’re Lee Child, who doesn’t need help.

HOW TO DO IT?

  1. Find other authors.

Invite one to three other authors in your area to join you either in person or by zoom. A total of three or four offers good variety while giving everyone a chance to talk. More than that is too crowded and cumbersome.

  1. Decide on a genre and theme.

Montana authors Leslie Budewitz, Christine Carbo, Debbie Burke, Mark Leichliter

My recent event focused on crime fiction, combining four subgenres: cozy mystery (Leslie Budewitz), small town police procedural (Mark Leichliter), police procedural in a national park (Christine Carbo), and thriller (Debbie Burke). The title was “Murder, Inc. – How Montana authors kill people…on the page.”

Include variety in subgenres so there aren’t two cat cozy authors competing with each other.

For instance, a children’s literature gathering could feature one author who writes picture books, one middle grade, and one young adult, reaching three different audiences.

  1. Set up a venue.

Weather permitting, many people feel more comfortable outdoors these days. Depending on where you live, indoor settings may or may not be available.

I’ve been lucky to be hosted twice by a dream open-air location in Bigfork, Montana, right beside the Swan River. Lake Baked Bakery/Riverview Bar has a large grassy area with tables and chairs.

Lake Baked Bakery/River View Bar, Bigfork, Montana

Many cafes, coffee houses, brew pubs, and independent bookstores are struggling financially due to the pandemic. The ones I’ve approached are enthusiastic about hosting activities that draw more customers.

Independent-living senior communities are a good bet to find  many avid readers. So are schools, community colleges, and libraries.

  1. Decide on a format.

A panel discussion with Q&A from the audience works well. Designate one person as moderator. S/he has a list of prepared questions and keeps the discussion moving.

If you decide to do open readings, they should be short—no more than five minutes per person, broken up with discussion and questions between authors.

  1. Publicize the event.

Here’s where having friends is a real force multiplier. Each author has their own blog and email list to disseminate info about the appearance. Each has their own social media followers. If there are four participants, that’s four times the number of contacts than if you did it by yourself.

Press releases to newspapers/radio are more likely to be noticed if there are three or four authors appearing together. Then it becomes an event of interest to the community instead of a lonely author crying in the wilderness.

The venue may have a Facebook page or other outlet where they publicize events. Ask them to include yours. Again, that reaches a wider, different demographic than simply reading fans.

Supplement these efforts with posters around the area and you should have a respectable turnout.

  1. Set up and logistics.

Scope out the venue before the event. Find out what equipment, chairs, tables, etc. they can provide and what you need to bring yourselves.

You need sound equipment–an amplifier and at least two mics for four people. If the venue doesn’t have that, you may know someone who will let you use their equipment. If not, you may need to rent it.

Leslie Budewitz is my frequent partner-in-crime for live presentations. Her husband Don is a musician and he graciously sets up and runs his equipment for us. I always buy a drink and snack for great volunteer helpers like him.

If you need Power Point capability for slide shows, verify that the venue’s system is compatible with yours. Sometimes you can put a thumb drive in their computer. Other times, it’s better to bring your own computer but check that connecting cords work.

Always, always, always test video and audio beforehand. Glitches are uncomfortable not only for you but your audience as well.

Depending on the venue, if there’s a stage, you can sit on chairs/bar stools. Or you may prefer to stand/walk around as you talk.

Set the tone. If possible, arrange the audience seating to be comfortable and relaxed. Rows of chairs are not as friendly as groupings like in a café or bar.

  1. The day of the event.

Arrive at least a half hour early to set up/test equipment. Always, always, always test sound equipment before the presentation.

If the venue serves refreshments, buy some and encourage others. The business is supporting you to improve their bottom line. The higher their sales, the more likely they’ll invite you back again. Thank your host and the servers and tip generously.

During the discussion, encourage the audience to ask questions. The more interaction with them, the better.

Beforehand, set up your own book table.

Bring pens, business cards, and swag.

Bring a signup sheet for your mailing list.

Bring change for cash purchases.

If you use a credit card reader, make sure you can log into the venue’s wi-fi.

Oh yeah, don’t forget to bring your books!

Consider holding a drawing or contest with your book as the prize. People love to win free stuff.

~~~

Photo credit: Kay Bjork

Take a deep breath and try to relax. Initially, you may feel like you’re going to an IRS audit but you’re not.

The audience came because they’re interested in reading. They want to learn more about you as authors and your books. Make it enjoyable for them and yourself.

We get by with a little help from our friends. 

~~~

 TKZers: Have you done live appearances? What tips can you offer?

If you haven’t yet done a live appearance, what is holding you back?

~~~

 

Debbie Burke enjoys meeting readers in person or by Zoom. To set up an appearance, please click on “Request a TKZ speaker” at the top of the page.

Here is her series sales link.

Amazon A+ Content

Amazon A+ Content
Terry Odell

Amazon A PlusRecently, Amazon, in an unusual gesture to all indie authors, not only those participating in its “Select” program, opened what it calls A+ content to anyone using KDP to publish. Previously, only traditional publishers could use the feature.

What is it? It’s content that appears on the book’s detail page on Amazon, and provides additional information, allowing authors to give potential readers a deeper look at the author and their work.

Curious (or procrastinating work on the WIP?), I gave it a look.

Amazon has its own “how to” but I thought I’d run through my experiences here. Note: I’m not much of a techie, but I’m willing to try new things. This post is more of a starting point than a tutorial.

Here we go:

(Click on any image to enlarge.)

From your KDP Dashboard, click the “Marketing” tab at the top.Amazon A PlusScroll down to the A+ Content section, and click the down arrow for marketplace. I stuck with Amazon.com for starters, but if you don’t choose one, you can’t move on. (You have to do this every time you come back to work on a project.)
Amazon A PlusThen, click the Manage A+ Content button right below the marketplace.

On the next screen, at the far right, there’s a “Start creating A+ content” button on the right. After trying other options, such as searching for an ASIN, or even plugging in an ASIN, I found this to be the most efficient.

Amazon A PlusAfter that, you assign your content a name. It doesn’t show anywhere; it’s so you can keep track. I used the name of the book I was creating the content for. Duh.

I suggest studying their module examples. They’re not completely user-friendly, but they are a good starting point for how each module works. Just beware. Every module has its own set of rules as to what you can add and where it has to go. Their suggestions aren’t always the best for what you want to do. I’ll go into this in more detail later in this post.

Then, you click the “Add Module” and the fun begins. For starters, it’s best to stick to no more than three. For “branding” purposes, I am using my website header from the “Standard Company Logo” Module for all the content I create, although I had to resize it to the required 600×180.

Some Examples

My advice is to start with something simple. I chose two of my stand alone books, Heather’s Chase, and What’s in a Name? to practice on.

For Heather’s Chase, I used the standard company Logo, the Standard Single Left Image, and the Standard Multiple Image Module A.

What I learned. The multiples images in the last image don’t show up all at once. To see the text for each, the reader has to hover the cursor or tap.

Amazon A PlusFor What’s in a Name? I used the Standard Company Logo, the “Standard Image & Dark Text Overlay, the Standard Single Left Image, and the Standard Single Right Image modules.

Amazon A PlusHow it works

When you click the “Add Module” button, you’ll see a bunch of choices, all about dogs. Not much help for genre fiction writers. Also, each module has an image size “recommendation” which means, “this is the size we accept.” Trouble is, except for the standard logo module, you don’t see sizes until you select the module. There’s not a lot of flexibility here, at least not that I found, so my advice is to use a photo editing program to size your images to the same dimensions each module allows. I use Canva or Photoshop, depending on the image I’m starting with. The aspect ratios of book covers mean you’ll have to get creative.

Using Canva, I create a template of the acceptable dimensions and work from there. This is what I did for Heather’s Chase, where the image size was 300×300. The cover image alone wouldn’t have worked, so I added the background.

Amazon A PlusAfter having my two stand alone projects approved, I decided to move on to a series. I tried to use the Amazon-suggested module for a series, thinking I’d use it on one of my box set pages. My plan was to have it show on the box set book detail page, with images and short tag lines for each of the 3 books in the set, so readers would know what was included.

My troubles: The image size template is 150×300, which creates a tall, skinny book. Since the entire book shows, I thought I could deal with it. Because I was required to include the ASIN for each image, the finished product would show up on the book detail pages for the box set AND the three novels it includes, which I didn’t want. After much discussion with KDP reps (who are still learning how all this works), I ended up abandoning that project. This is what it would have looked like, had I been able to convince the program I only wanted it to show on the box set page.

Amazon A PlusI moved on to a different module for general information about my Mapleton mystery series, something that I could use on all the books in that series.

I chose the Standard Single Image & Sidebar module. There are two places for images in that module. One was 300×400, and the other 350×175. Again, I went to Canva for a quick way to create images with the book covers that fit those dimensions. Then, it’s a matter of plugging things in and filling the blanks.

Amazon A+Other Tips

ASINs: Although the field says “search” it’s much more efficient to copy your ASIN into that box and hit “Enter.” It should bring up the book, and it’ll tell you if it’s eligible. It should be, so you click the “Assign” button.

Once you’ve done this, you can still go back and edit, but you’ll have to hit the “Assign” button again every time you want to move forward. The program remembers the ASIN, but it’s not intuitive that you need to click that button every time you want to make forward progress. You can’t jump around in the steps.

I was satisfied with my Mapleton Mystery results, and this one was approved quickly, so—what the heck?—I created one for my Triple-D Ranch series using the same format. I’m working on book 4 now, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to have something more detailed on the pages for the first 3. When Book 4 comes out, I’ll go back and edit.

Amazon A PlusThings to note

When you add an image, you have to assign keywords. If you remove the image for any reason, the keywords disappear, too, so it’s a good idea to have them written somewhere you can copy and paste instead of retyping.

You can create the modules in any order and then use the up and down arrows to move them around.

Amazon has to approve all content, and it can take a week.

The content appears on the page under “From the Publisher” so readers have to scroll down a bit to see it, but at least it’s not the last item on the page. It should show up right after the “Also Bought” carousel.

If you want to see how it looks “in action”, you can find one here.

Overall, the editing process is cumbersome. I don’t think there’s anything I can say here that will eliminate trial and error if you want to give the content creation a go.

Once you’re satisfied, you click Review and Submit, and then wait for Amazon to give the thumbs up or thumbs down. So far, all of mine have been accepted.

Has anyone else here used A+? Have you found an easier way to do it?

To those of you observing Yom Kippur, G’mar chatima tova. And may you have an easy fast.

The Reluctant Book Marketer – Guest post by Mark Leichliter

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

Photo credit: Alex Loup, Unsplash

In May, Steve Hooley and I surveyed TKZ contributors about marketing and how they promote their work. Links below:

Part 1    Part 2

For most of us, marketing holds the same appeal as a kale and rutabaga smoothie.

A few weeks ago, I had a discussion with Mark Leichliter, author, writing instructor, and editor. I mentioned what writers really need is advice about how to overcome our aversion to marketing.

Mark took up the challenge. He probed into why we hate it so much and offered some solutions.

I thought his ideas would make a good companion post to our recent marketing discussion.

Today please welcome Mark to the Zone.

~~~

If a tree falls in the forest…okay, we all know how this old philosophical question goes. How about this one? If an author publishes a book and no one knows about it… Easy to answer, right? A book without readers is still a book in the metaphysical definition, but its existence is pretty pointless. With one exception, the person who wrote it—you. But what if you are the sort of person who would rather hang around in the forest awaiting the sudden tree toppling than face marketing your book?

Count me as a forest dweller. The thought of promotion sends me scurrying into the deep timber. But unless you’re one of the eleven and a half writers around the world that a Big 5 publisher runs full page Times ads for, the work is going to fall to you. Big press, small press, no press, if we want to expand our audience beyond our own front door, we’ve got to face down marketing, even if we hate it.

I’ve got a few counts against me when it comes to book promotion. Perhaps you do as well. First, I’m shy. Students in classes or participants in workshops I’ve taught might not guess this to be true, but it is. Give me a business dinner where it’s all small talk, and I’m a disaster. It takes me ten minutes of chanting mantras to make a phone call. Second, my parents raised me—and I thank them—to be humble. And I grew up in the Inter-mountain West, a culture where people respect my right to be an individual but they’d rather not hear about my individuality. Third, I openly despise consumer culture. It’s apparently the marriage partner to an open capitalist market, but why must we constantly be sold everything? Ads stalking us on our phone, our clothing, in our music and movies and emails. Why would I want to participate in something so intrusive?

Here’s the thing. We’ve got to think about that silent forest again. Unless you are content with your audience of one, you’ve already entered the marketplace. So how do we take our reluctance to promote our books and change our approach to marketing? And how do we rise out of the din? Here are some tips I’ve learned for those of us who become physically ill at the thought of book promotion.

  • Distinguish between the book you’ve created and your role as its creator. Yes, in the vernacular of the marketplace, you’ve got a product to distribute now. But it’s also a book, something that can defy demographic typecasting and time. Books are unique products, so treat them that way. It starts by letting the thing exist separately from you. Sure, you poured yourself into it but now it exists (more metaphysics!). So do it a favor. Here’s a simple analogy; you might be reluctant to share some tiny triumph at work or some personal accomplishment, but if one of your children scored a goal or won a ribbon at the science fair, you’re going to shout it from the rooftops, right? Doesn’t your book-child deserve the same?
  • This is key; change the game. Don’t see your actions as marketing. More to the point, don’t reduce the book to only being a product you’re trying to sell. You’re used to flipping psychological switches in your brain on slow writing days in order to remain productive, so flip a different switch in how you see interacting with readers. It’s really a matter of respect for them. People seldom want to buy “products” anyway. They want to participate in a lifestyle they value. They want to follow passions. They want to be associated with things in which they place importance. You didn’t spend the years and the drafts writing your book while lukewarm about its themes, characters, and ideas. See promotion as an opportunity to engage others with those fronts. Don’t sell a product to consumers, enter a conversation with readers. Even if you are shy like me, when speaking about the topics I’m passionate about, I come out of my shell without thought. I can’t stomach that trivial cocktail party chitchat, but find the person at the party who shares interest in something we both find meaningful, and we’ll be there all night. Instead of “marketing” your book, look for venues where you can have conversations about mutual passions. There are thousands of bloggers and podcast hosts who run author interviews. Readers like to know the person behind the page. They like to engage with a writer because they love books. Find venues that take reader questions. Reach out to book clubs. Provide readers something of value and neither they, or you, will see your outreach as a sales job.
  • Control what you can control and work from your strengths. If the idea of appearing on a podcast makes you cringe, then focus on print interviews instead. You’re a writer aren’t you, then the prospect of providing written answers to questions for a blog actually offers you the chance to be creative, probe topics you care about, and do so from the comfort of your writing desk. Get more creative still. Propose a “day in the life” first person post from the viewpoint of one of your characters. Interview one of your characters. Or present the city your write about from the lens of your book. Or get yourself off the hook entirely and use an actual human source you turned to as a consultant for your book and interview them. There are plenty of fun, creative ways that feed your imagination and give readers something original in the process.
  • “See your friends.” My favorite soccer coaching colleague was a wonderful Thai guy who was a genius at simplifying the game. His go-to expression to players during scrimmage was, “See your friends.” Shy? Uncomfortable? Humble? Rather than go it alone, reach out to other writer friends or other authors from your publishing house. There’s tremendous comradery among writers, probably because we’re the only ones who truly understand how difficult writing and marketing a book really is. Propose dual blogger posts or offer a book site a conversation between you and another author. Suggest a multi-author panel for a podcast, a remote event, or a live appearance. There’s strength in numbers, for you, and for your audience. I guarantee that you will enjoy the conversation that emerges, and it won’t feel like marketing because it really isn’t. Sales and exposure are the offshoot. Moreover, you can share the workload.
  • Champion others rather than yourself. Remember that comradery comment. It’s real. And I know you’ve found other writers you want to see succeed. I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to help find an agent for a writer friend simply because I believe in him and his book. Put some energy into broadcasting reviews, recommendations, and announcements about books by writers you admire or have learned from. Stand up for books you love. You’ll be doing a valuable service for readers. Do it because you care. Maybe the author will reciprocate. Don’t worry if they don’t. That shouldn’t be your motivation. You’re a participant in a bigger writing community, so be a good neighbor. We live in times where we need more kindness, so do someone else a solid. Put awful things like social media to some good use instead. Or take that five minutes to write a review on a seller’s site or a book community site. If people value what you have to say about books you love, many are going to want to know about your work as well.

You don’t have to become a PR cliché to produce effective promotion for your book. Look, you really do believe your book has value, right? Whether that’s simply entertainment value for a reader or a book that will challenge how they perceive the world, surely you are producing work that you are proud to have written—a book that deserves an audience. The thing is, you’re going to have to go out and find that audience. There’s a first step that has to happen before we can have the contemplative conversation about whether an unopened book on a bookshelf has value; first we’ve got to get it on the shelf, or better yet, in a reader’s hands.

~~~

Thanks for your insights, Mark! 

TKZers: Do you have mind tricks that help overcome your aversion to marketing? Please share.

~~~

 

Mark Leichliter’s new novel The Other Side debuts today, June 8. Sales links here.

How do you start an investigation when you have no evidence a crime has been committed?

 

TKZ Marketing Survey – Part 2

By Debbie Burke

 @burke_writer

 

On Saturday, Steve Hooley kicked off Part 1 of the TKZ Marketing Survey. Today, I’ll cover the rest of the results and sum up our findings.

Before we get started, please indulge me for a moment. Back in November, I wrote about my good friend astrophysicist Sarah Rugheimer who’d been selected to deliver a TED talk. Several readers asked when her talk would go live. Yesterday was the day! Congratulations, Sarah! Here’s the link. 

~~~

Garry Rodgers’s answers (indie pub):

What is your goal with marketing?

 Two things which are intertwined. One is to sell more books (products). The other is to increase discoverability. Increasing my discoverability by distributing my brand in as many places as possible organically sells more books. By selling more books, I create read-through which increases my discoverability. Never underestimate the power of “word-of-mouse”.

What marketing do you do?

 I’ve appeared on many podcasts and blog interviews. I can’t say I’ve ever struck gold from one, but each exposure increases discoverability. (“You are the worst writer I’ve ever heard of.” “Yes. But you have heard of me.”)

 Blogging – Website

 Blogging is *BY FAR* the best ROI I’ve ever had. That includes my own blog at DyingWords, the Kill Zone posts, and many guest pieces I’ve done on other sites. Recently, I was “found” by a NYC film producer who landed on one of my old posts.  It led to discussions and to a potential NetFlix series which I’m outlining a proposal for as we speak.

 Newsletter

 I have 2100 subscribers on my mailing list, and I send out a new blog post every second Saturday – consistently. I get about 500 click-throughs so I’m happy with that. I’m in a publishing cycle of 1 book every 2 months so I put a post out promoting the release. However, when I look at my sales stats right after a newsletter, I don’t see any spike. I know the gurus say “Mailing List Mailing List Mailing List” but I’m not seeing it directly tied to sales spikes – It’s the long term exposure and a slow reader growth that pays off.

 Which social media platforms?

I do Facebook for personal laughs and Twitter for sharing writing stuff and making connections. I have an author FB page but haven’t done anything with it which is likely why there’s no return on it. I have a friend who writes under the pen name Chevy Stevens (because her real name is too hard to pronounce) who has killer FB returns and is her main reader connection. Twitter has been good for making personal connections in the writing business, but I can’t say it’s sold anything directly.

Paid ads

Now we’re talking returns. Pay-to-play ads are THE Thing that works for me. My money-maker is my based-on-true-crime series which is at Book #8. I have about 20 publications out there, but the read-through from the series is working very well. I have book 1 as perma-free and pay to advertise it on the discount newsletters – Ereader News Today (ENT) is the best payback. Last campaign resulted in 5K downloads and generated a read-through which brought a 3 to 1 return on investment. The other good returns are from Robin Reads, Fussy Librarian, Free Booksy, Bargain Booksy, Book Doggy, and Book Gorilla. I’ve tried one BookBub ad which was a flop and I have yet to try FB and AZ ads.

Conferences – networking

I’ve never been to a live writing conference. I was going to go to Bouchercon last year but you-know-who showed up and threw a wrench into the travel spokes. I’ve taken in a bunch of online conferences and webinars but you don’t get personal connections this way – at least not from my experience. I’ve cold-called high profile people on Twitter and have had surprisingly good results in having them guest appear on my blogsite.

Others

Absolutely nothing beats building a backlist and creating read-through. “Write More Books” is the best advice I’ve ever gotten, and that’s where I put most of my efforts at the moment. I changed my mindset last February to treat my writing like a business and not a hobby. I credit Adam Croft for this. Adam and I have been personal friends for ten years – I say back when Adam wasn’t famous and I still had color in my hair. Adam’s book, The Indie Author Mindset, https://www.amazon.com/Indie-Author-Mindset-changing-transform-ebook/dp/B07FZ3X349/  is a MUST-READ for any indie who intends to “make it” in this biz.

 “Going Wide” is another must-do tactic. I started on Kobo and Nook last April and have had over 30K downloads in 66 different countries since then. Yes, many are freebies but the discoverability and read-through in paid sales has been remarkable – truly rewarding and motivating to write more books.

For each specific activity above that you use, how much time do you estimate that you spend (per week? per month?)

I keep a journal/daily log where I track my time in 15 minute blocks. On a good writing day, I get in 3,000 – 3,500 words and I write about 1,000 words per hour so that’s 3 – 3.5 solid writing hours per day. Most days I put in 8 – 10 hours of solid time in what I call the four Ps – Production, Publishing, Promotion, and Perfection. Production is about 5 days per week. Publishing goes in spurts – 1 book every 2 months. Promotion is all the time – here, there & everywhere – every action is some sort of promotion (like this). Perfection never happens but what I mean by this is craft improvement. I read a lot and across the board, not just genre specific. I just finished a book titled “Profiles In Folly” which is about world-changing stupid things done by influential people. Hopefully, I don’t appear in the sequel.

For each activity above that you use, what do you estimate is your return on investment? Which one do you think is the most effective?

Write more books is the most effective. Pay-to-play ads is second. Networking with influencers who can increase discoverability is a close third.

What resources have been most helpful to you in learning the above?

These publications: “Indie Author Mindset” – Adam Croft, “On Writing” – Stephen King, “Elements of Style” – Strunk & White, “Wired For Story” – Lisa Cron, “Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us” – Jessica Page Morrell, “Self-Editing For Fiction Writers” – Dave King & Renni Browne, and “Think And Grow Rich” – Napoleon Hill.

What changes have you made to your marketing b/c of the pandemic?

I have to say the pandemic was the best thing ever for my writing business. It was coincidental that I changed my mindset last February just before this thing hit, but I increased my output and promotions. I think more people had more time to read and were looking for new stuff as well as more people turning to ebooks because they couldn’t get out to the bricks & mortar stores – plus they also got comfortable with ereading devices. So it was the perfect storm that propelled me from zero to hero. I can’t wait for the next wave. Bring it!  J

Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently if you were starting over?

I would have taken this more seriously far earlier. You can’t turn back the clock of reality – only go forward with the flow and write more books. Write, publish, repeat – as they say.

Where do you sell your books?

Amazon – 70%. Kobo – 29. Nook – 1%. I’m going to publish on Apple and Google this year. Plus look into print and audio options. Amazon is strong in the US and the UK, but Kobo (Rakutan) has immense world-wide reach. Nook is barely worth the effort however I hear great things about Apple.

 Series with a permafree first issue really works. And you’ve got to keep your name out there – you never know when Netflix comes calling.

~~~

Joe Hartlaub’s answers (trad pub):

What is your goal with marketing? Get my name out there.

What marketing do you do or participate in? Zoom interviews, blogging at killzoneblog.com,

Facebook, networking at Bouchercon.

For each specific activity above that you use, how much time do you estimate that you spend (per week? per month?) Irregularly, unfortunately.

For each activity above that you use, what do you estimate is your return on investment? Which one do you think is the most effective? Blogging and networking.

What resources have been most helpful to you in learning the above? Just getting out there and learning along the way.

What changes have you made to your marketing b/c of the pandemic? No Bouchercon!

Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently if you were starting over? I would have started getting involved with the writing community earlier than I did.

~~~

Sue Coletta’s answers (trad pub):

What is your goal with marketing? To reach a wider audience.

What marketing do you do or participate in? Speaking – Zoom – Podcasts – Book Tours – interviews – Blogging – Website – Newsletter – Social media – Conferences – networking

All of the above. I’ve done Zoom book events, appeared on podcasts, blog tours, interviews, and in-person appearances (in the nice weather). I blog on TKZ and my site, Murder Blog. If it weren’t for my website/blog, I would’ve missed out on so many amazing opportunities. Some authors say writers don’t need to blog, but I disagree. We all need a home base where readers/agents/publishers can find you, and social media is NOT a home base. Last year, I buckled down to write a separate newsletter for readers (I’ve always sent blog-related newsletters), and the response has been positive so far. Networking with other writers is key. The writing community is a generous, kind, funny, little crazy tribe, and I wouldn’t trade any of them. J

 For each specific activity above that you use, how much time do you estimate that you spend (per week? per month?) Depends if I have a new release or what I’m doing. Zoom events take a lot longer than, say, social media marketing.

For each activity above that you use, what do you estimate is your return on investment? Which one do you think is the most effective? I think it’s all important. I view marketing as a sum of its parts (blogging, social media, book signings, etc). Most effective? Appearances, either in person or virtual.

What resources have been most helpful to you in learning the above? Other writers. Nine times out of ten, a writer will share advice with another writer. It’s what we do.

What changes have you made to your marketing b/c of the pandemic? I’ve done a lot more virtual events than in person. Now that I’m fully vaccinated (yay!) I’ve booked my usual venues for the upcoming season.

 Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently if you were starting over? Too many things to mention. Top answer: Plan where you want to see your career in five years, ten years, fifteen years. Then be patient and choose an agent or house that can help you achieve your goals.

~~~

Debbie Burke’s answers (indie pub):

What is your goal with marketing? Connect PERSONALLY with as many readers as possible b/c I strongly believe in old-fashioned word-of-mouth recommendations. That is more rewarding to me than 10K followers I’ll never meet. I’d like to sell more books but thankfully I don’t depend on writing income to survive.

What marketing do you do? Zoom discussions with book clubs and educational presentations for writing groups. Radio and newspaper interviews in my local area.

Blogging – Website Not as much as I should for my own blog/website. Most blogging is for TKZ.

Social media – Twitter only for name recognition. I doubt that generates sales.

Paid ads – In the past, I’ve bought cheap ads ($50 and under) directed to mystery/thriller genre readers. Never broke even. Trying out some of Garry’s strategies and will report back later. 

A personal observation – I’m deluged with constant ads and am sick of them. I rarely buy any product solely b/c of an ad. Most of the time, I delete w/o reading them. I suspect I’m not alone in that feeling. 

Conferences – In the past, in-person appearances/workshops at conferences.

Networking – most speaking invitations come from networking with people I know or have met from previous appearances.

Others – I have had good luck partnering with other authors for appearances. Two other authors and I give presentations as the “Montana Women of Mystery.”

For each specific activity above that you use, how much time do you estimate that you spend (per week? per month?)

Speaking, classes, workshops – 5+ hours prep time per event plus presentation time. Blogging – 10+ hours/month.

Social media – 1 hour/month.

For each activity above that you use, what do you estimate is your return on investment? Which one do you think is the most effective? At book clubs, close to 100% of participants buy books, but numbers are small since most clubs have fewer than 20 members. For general speaking appearances, 20-25% of participants buy books. In 2017-2019, blogging on TKZ resulted in significant sales spikes but tapered off in 2020-2021. I suspect any TKZ regulars who are interested have already bought my books so that market is somewhat saturated. However, exposure and repetition are still important. When readers see my name regularly, like blogging on TKZ every other week, they think of me. I just spoke to a mystery group in Arizona that found me through TKZ.

What resources have been most helpful to you in learning the above? JSB’s book Marketing for Writers Who Hate Marketing; Jane Friedman’s blog; Dave Chesson’s Kindlepreneur; Authors Guild discussion groups; asking other authors what works for them; trial and error.

What changes have you made to your marketing b/c of the pandemic? Zoom instead of in-person appearances. Zoom allows meeting with groups outside my local area. I’m increasing those promotions b/c appearances work better for me than advertising. 

Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently if you were starting over? I wish I’d gotten my rights back sooner from the original publisher and rereleased the book independently.

My sales are not great but I only have so much time and energy. I’d rather concentrate on writing more books. Now that six are available, I’m increasing promotion and see a gradual but steady increase in sales. Readers of my prior books are repeat customers. My following is small but loyal and growing. I still feel producing more product is more important than advertising.

Where do you sell your books? For several years, my books were exclusive with Amazon but there is no longer any advantage to exclusivity. Several months ago (prompted by Garry and Terry), I “went wide” and books are now for sale at B&N, Kobo, Apple, and other online markets through Draft2Digital – too soon to see results but wider availability can’t hurt; local indie bookstores sell paperbacks; I sell paperbacks at book signings and presentations.

~~~

What do all these results add up to?

Besides increased sales, several consistent themes for the goal of marketing were repeated: name recognition, discoverability, word-of-mouth, and building customer loyalty.

Seven contributors mentioned Zoom as an important development that’s replaced in-person appearances. Two additionally mentioned doing Zoom appearances in partnership with other authors.

According to all nine survey respondents, blogging is definitely not dead. Several said they’d cut back on other blogging but continue with TKZ.

Six authors use newsletters.

Paid ads yield the most varied responses, with some authors having good results while others didn’t believe ads were worth the cost. BookBub was mentioned several times as the most effective advertising.

Social media is viewed by the majority as a necessary evil that doesn’t generally sell books but increases name recognition. Several complained SM wastes too much time but needs to be done. Facebook and Twitter are the most used venues, although a couple of authors mentioned You Tube and podcasts.

Jim Bell offers wise advice about social media in his book Marketing for Writers who Hate to Market:

“Here is my advice regarding social media.

Pick one platform to specialize in.

One.

Pick the one you enjoy most, or think you can handle best.

If you want to have a presence on other platforms, to experiment, go ahead. But place your focus on one.

Use it to the extent you enjoy it, and no more.

Use it for actual engagement with those who follow you.

Be a good content provider, and a good listener.

Avoid venting your spleen on social media. Because besides being a lousy place to sell books, it’s a horrible place to take controversial positions. There is no true discussion here, because that’s not what social media is set up for.

Don’t post drunk.

Make all people glad they follow you.

Earn trust. When it’s time to mention a book, you’ll have earned the right to do so.”

Nearly all authors lamented the loss of in-person conferences. Two have not previously attended conferences and expressed disappointment over cancellations.

Networking at conferences was cited as enormously important because those contacts often opened up other opportunities as well as marketing avenues.

Two indie authors mentioned “going wide” to other sales outlets besides Amazon.

“Write more books” was noted by most respondents as the best marketing tool.

This survey confirmed that there is no marketing magic bullet. It’s time-consuming, long-term work. Results don’t happen overnight. But, if we want to sell books, we gotta do it.

 Steve, thanks for coming up with this topic and including me as your co-conspirator. Thanks also to the TKZ family who answered questions and shared helpful insights.

~~~

Over to you, TKZers. What type of marketing is most productive for you? Did you learn any new methods from this survey you’d like to try?

~~~

Note: I’m taking Garry’s advice on “permafree” for the first book in my series. So far, results look very promising. Thanks, Garry! 

 

 

Instrument of the Devil is now FREE. Please give it a read. If you like it, come back and check out five more books in the Tawny Lindholm Thriller series. 

TKZ Marketing Survey

by Steve Hooley

After a recent post on marketing, by Clare, Marketing in the Time of Covid, (April 12, 2021), Debbie and I were discussing the topic, and decided to survey all the contributors here at TKZ to learn their practices and strategies, and see what differences exist between indie and traditional publishers. In today’s post you’ll see five of the nine responses. On Tuesday, 5/25/21, you’ll see the remaining four responses and Debbie’s analysis, so please return on Tuesday to finish the discussion.

Today, as you read the responses, please be thinking about your overall strategy for marketing and if you plan to change any components.

 

John Gilstrap’s answers:

Traditional Pub

  1. What is your goal with marketing?
  2. The real answer here will sound flippant, but it’s true: My goal is to make my name and by books more recognizable to the public, and therefore sell more. I haven’t established any hard and fast metrics for this. And without metrics, my “goal” is more accurately classified as a “strategy.”
  3. What marketing do you do or participate in?
  • Speaking – Zoom – Podcasts – Book Tours – interviews

o   Speaking gigs as we once knew them are obviously dormant. As soon as more of America is released from house arrest, I hope to get back to more of that. In 2020, I did a number of Zoom meetings, from individual book clubs—which I hope to continue into the future—to speaking at virtual conferences.

  • Blogging – Website

o   TKZ is the only blog on which I regularly participate. I have a website that I keep current with book data, and I’ve populated it with short stories and essays about writing. That said, the website is fairly static. While I provide the content, I do not handle the design or manipulation of the site.

  • Newsletter

o   I have a newsletter list, and in theory, I send out newsletters, but I am not nearly regular enough with them. I send out publication announcements, but my life is too boring to send regular (monthly or quarterly) newsletters. I think I just don’t understand the purpose of newsletters.

  • Social media – Which platforms

o   Ah, social media. What a cesspool that has become. My SM focus has been on Facebook and YouTube. I use my Facebook author page as I think I’m supposed to use my newsletter. I post about the progress of the house we’re building and about selected life events. I also participate pretty actively in a 100K+-member FB group about fiction writing. I leverage many of those posts to point people to my YouTube channel which I call a Writer’s View on Writing and Publishing. The point of my YouTube channel is to get more invitations to speak at conferences and such.

  • Conferences – networking

o   Conferences are the great casualty of the pandemic panic. There’s no way to replace that kind of face-to-face interaction with readers, fans and other authors. That said, I have a standing date with some author buddies for virtual happy hours every Wednesday evening via Zoom. It’s not the same, but it helps.

  • Others

o   Kensington (my publisher) does a lot of work on my behalf with GoodReads, BookBub and the various retailers, but I don’t understand how most of that stuff works.

  1. For each specific activity above that you use, how much time do you estimate that you spend (per week? per month?)
  2. I dedicate probably an hour per day to Facebook. My TKZ posts take at least two hours apiece—often more. The videos for my YouTube channel take a few hours apiece, between scripting, shooting and editing. I tend to binge-shoot these in the weeks between books, and as my deadlines approach, I don’t do any social media.
  3. For each activity above that you use, what do you estimate is your return on investment? Which one do you think is the most effective?
  4. I have no idea. I don’t even know where to look to find that data.
  5. What resources have been most helpful to you in learning the above?
  6. My publisher’s publicity apparatus has been very helpful in educating me on what does and does not work in social media. We work together to project the same messages around publication dates. Historically, they’ve also arranged for some speaking gigs on my behalf. As far as YouTube is concerned, the best education sources are on YouTube itself.
  7. What changes have you made to your marketing b/c of the pandemic?
  8. I haven’t changed things so much as I have backed away from them. The best analogy I can think of is this: If I were on a canoe camping trip through the woods and a freak storm turned the normally placid river into a torrent, I wouldn’t attempt to navigate the dangerous waters. Instead, I’d wait for the stormwaters to recede. That’s what I’m doing during the blind panic of the pandemic.
  9. Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently if you were starting over?
  10. It’s been my belief from the beginning that there is virtually nothing an author can do to significantly impact sales. I think that book tours are terrible wastes of money and time. Conferences are better, but not by much. The Holy Grail of marketing is to snag the keynote speaker slot, but there are only so many of those to go around. The best way for an author to sell books is to write more books.

 

Jim Bell’s answers:

Indie Pub

What marketing do you do?
Speaking – Zoom – Podcasts – Book Tours – interviews
Blogging – Website
Newsletter
Social media – Which platforms     Twitter, Facebook (limited)
Paid ads – which onesBookBub, BookGorilla
Conferences – networking

3. For each specific activity above that you use, how much time do you estimate that you
spend (per week? per month?)

It varies, of course. I try generally to keep things 90/10…90% on my writing because word of mouth (the result of really good book) is by far the best marketing.

4. For each activity above that you use, what do you estimate is your return on investment?

In the back of my mind I’m always thinking I have an hourly worth based on my average writing income each month. So I tend to think “I’m losing money by spending too much time here” with regard to social media.

Which one do you think is the most effective?

BookBub.

5. What resources have been most helpful to you in learning the above?

TheCreativePenn.com

6. What changes have you made to your marketing b/c of the pandemic?

Obviously, more Zoom. Workshops, mini-conferences.

7. Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently if you were starting over?

Nothing really. I’ve kept writing as #1 and that hasn’t changed. I’ve tried paid ads — cost per click — on both BookBub and Amazon, but haven’t cracked the code for fiction. Nonfiction has worked better.

8. Where do you sell your books?

Amazon.

 

Terry Odell answers:

Indie Pub

I didn’t answer because I don’t have a marketing plan. I’m random and haphazard, and don’t track much.

Best for me, IF you can get one, is a BookBub deal. For Audio, a Chirp deal. I’ve done ads with other newsletters, such as ENT, Bargain/Free Booksy, Fussy Librarian. I’ve done the occasional Amazon ad, but just let them handle it, and I keep my spending very low.

I have a blog, a newsletter that goes out when I have something new, a Facebook Author Page. My blog feeds to my author page, to Amazon, to Goodreads (which I never visit), and I’m not even sure where else it shows up.

The only thing that’s changed during the pandemic is I haven’t gone to any conferences, although I’d cut way back before the pandemic.

Social media is about engaging, not selling, but if it’s lumped into marketing, then I probably spend under an hour/day doing “marketing.” If you remove that from the mix, more like 10-15 minutes, max.

Can you tell I don’t like marketing? I’m not in this gig for the money; I’d go nuts if I wasn’t writing. Seeing sales is good, but I look at bad years as a way to cut back on our taxes.

 

Elaine Viets’s answers:

Traditional Pub

  1. What is your goal with marketing?
  • To create a loyal group of satisfied readers who will return to buy my mysteries and help sell books by word of mouth.
  1. What marketing do you do or participate in?
  • Speaking – Zoom – Podcasts – Book Tours – interviews
  • I give talks via Zoom and I’ve been a podcast guest. Before Covid-19 I went on book tours. Now I participate in Zoom book signings. These are most successful if I team up with one or more writers for the event. My last Zoom book signing was with Charlaine Harris at Murder on the Beach Bookstore in Delray Beach, FL. Murder on the Beach asks participants to buy at least one book.
  • Blogging – Website
    • I’ve cut back on blogging, except for TKZ. I believe blogging’s popularity is waning. TKZ has an established audience, and it’s worth my time.
  • Newsletter
    • I have a database of about 3000 names and send out a newsletter two or three times a year, usually when I have a new book or anthology coming out. I don’t like to bombard my readers with constant newsletters.
  • Social media – Which platforms
    • Social media is a huge time suck. I use Twitter and Facebook.
  • Conferences – networking
    • Thanks to Covid, most of the conferences were cancelled. I really miss them. I’ve been a speaker at several virtual conferences and will be at Mostly Malice, the Malice Domestic conference. As for networking, I belong to MWA and I’m treasurer of the Sisters in Crime Treasure Coast Chapter.
  • Others
    • My agent, Joshua Bilmes of JABberwocky, got the rights back for my Dead-End Job mysteries, my Josie Marcus cozy series and the Francesca Vierling series. He commissioned new covers and descriptions. Julie Smith at BooksBNimble does a good job of marketing the books. She places ads and has giveaways.
  1. For each specific activity above that you use, how much time do you estimate that you spend (per week? per month?) Blogging takes about two days per month. Social media is about half an hour per day.
  2. For each activity above that you use, what do you estimate is your return on investment? Which one do you think is the most effective? Facebook gives me the best results personally, though BooksBNimble does well as an income stream.
  3. What resources have been most helpful to you in learning the above? I learned about BooksBNimble by networking.
  4. What changes have you made to your marketing b/c of the pandemic? I go to fewer in-person events, and I miss conferences and book signings.
  5. Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently if you were starting over? If I were starting over, I would join MWA and Sisters in Crime earlier and go to the conferences as soon as I had a contract, rather than waiting for my book to come out.

 

Steve Hooley’s Answers:

Indie Pub

  1. What is your goal with marketing? Leave a legacy for my descendants. Sell more books.
  2. What marketing do you do?
  • Speaking – Zoom – Podcasts – Book Tours – interviews Beginning to work on a target audience of schools with visits and zoom.
  • Blogging – Website TKZ only. Website needs updating.
  • Newsletter Once monthly to a sign-up group
  • Social media – Which platforms On Facebook, don’t use it.
  • Paid ads – which ones Want to learn about this.
  • Conferences – networking – In past. Not post-virus.
  • Others
  1. For each specific activity above that you use, how much time do you estimate that you spend (per week? per month?) Speaking – just starting – one hour per month. Blog (TKZ) about 2-3 hr every other week. Newsletter – one hour monthly.
  2. For each activity above that you use, what do you estimate is your return on investment? Which one do you think is the most effective? No return with any, other than speaking to individuals and small groups when I was still in my office. Most effective – speaking.
  3. What resources have been most helpful to you in learning the above? JSB – How to Make a Living as a Writer. Dale Carnegie – The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking. Kahle and Workhoven – Naked at the Podium. David Gaughran – books and newsletters.
  4. What changes have you made to your marketing b/c of the pandemic? Beginning to learn Zoom.
  5. Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently if you were starting over? Build my website as a website rather than a blog site. Do a better job of updating. Build a bigger newsletter list. Start public speaking sooner. Experiment with paid ads. Begin use of Zoom earlier.
  6. Where do you sell your books? Amazon and local bookstores.

 

 

Okay, TKZ family, it’s your turn:

  • What is your overall plan or strategy for marketing?
  • Do you plan to make any changes?

 

Two final notes: 

  1. Please remember to stop back on Tuesday, 5/25, when the four remaining responses from TKZ contributors will be presented, and  Debbie will analyze the results and wrap things up.
  2. In two weeks (June 5th) Dale Ivan Smith, a former librarian, will present a guest post, titled “How to Break Into a Library.” Please join us, and bring all your library questions.

When Characters Talk – Interview with Author Assaph Mehr

 

Felix the Fox business card

By Debbie Burke

@burke_twitter

 

Recently a writer friend turned me onto a site called The Protagonist Speaks, created by author Assaph Mehr, who was born in Israel and now lives in Australia. He writes a series described as Stories of Togas, Daggers, and Magic for lovers of urban fantasy, detective mysteries, and ancient Rome.

His main character is Felix the Fox, part sleuth, part magician, part fixer who handles occult trouble for Rome’s upstanding citizens who don’t want to dirty their hands.

Felix’s first interview appeared in 2016. The idea of an author interviewing the characters in his book intrigued readers. Soon, Assaph expanded the site to include other authors interviewing their characters.

The concept struck me as a fun, quirky marketing tool. I reached out to Assaph and requested an interview. That is today’s post, although I’m not quite sure who will show up—Assaph or Felix!

In Numina by Assaph Mehr

Debbie Burke: Please share a little about yourself and your background.

Assaph: I grew up on the shores of the Mediterranean, where every stone has a history – and the stone under it too, going back millennia. One of my favourite spots was an Ottoman citadel (we used to play LARP [live-action role-playing game] there), which is built on Mameluk foundation, laid on top of Roman village, which displaced older settlements to Egyptian times. Can’t grow up like that and not love history. Fantasy I discovered early on when introduced to The Hobbit, and thereafter I’ve been reading it voraciously. I now live in Oz (aka Australia), with various cats, kids, spiders, and water dragons.

Felix: I come from the city of Egretia, which Assaph assures me is very like your own ancient Rome. My father was in the antiquities trade, though I was fortunate enough to be accepted to the Collegium Incantatorum. My father died, the family fortune was lost, and I could no longer pay tuition so never graduated. So, after a brief stint in the legions, I came back and by a stroke of luck apprenticed with a couple of the city’s most renowned investigators. When they didn’t want to take a case that had occult elements, I seized my chance. I combined whatever education in the magical arts I gathered in the collegium with the investigative skills I learnt, and set out to solve paranormal problems for the proletariat.

Assaph: In Ancient Rome tradespeople often advertised by chalking messages on public walls. That’s how I met Felix, and got him to tell me his stories so I could write them down. For our world we couldn’t quite spray graffiti everywhere, so we made Felix some business cards. Please, pass them on to your readers.

DB: Your books sound like an interesting mashup of hard-boiled detective stories, fantasy, and history. How did you come up with that combination?

Assaph: Quite simply, that’s what I always liked to read. I grew up on classic detectives and thrillers, loved ancient Rome, and often escaped into fantasy and Sci-Fi. I always wanted to see my name in print, so when it was time to write I combined my favourite elements into the stories I wanted to read. (sotto voce) Don’t tell Felix he’s a figment of my imagination – he gets offended, and besides I’d rather he not ask uncomfortable questions about some of the misery I put him through.

Felix: For me it was a stroke of luck – my name, Felix, means lucky, so I attribute everything to my patron goddess Fortuna. As everyone will tell you – or, rather, whisper so she can’t hear – she can be a fickle and capricious goddess. I was accepted to the collegium, but had to terminate my studies; with no prospects I joined the legions, but escaped honorably without injury; the two investigators took me in, and I managed to carve out a unique niche for my business. So those stories are just the cases I handle for my customers, which Assaph publishes here. I’m still waiting on those royalties he promised.

Assaph: Skinflint. I told you, I had to pay the editor and the cover designer. We’re waiting on that movie deal for the big payout.

DB: What inspired the seed for The Protagonist Speaks?

Assaph: It was one of those 3 a.m. ideas that stuck. Every reader talks about favourite characters, I thought it would be an interesting idea to let them meet those characters in person, as it were. A bit like a celebrity talk show, but centered about the characters rather than the authors.

DB: How do readers respond to interviews with characters?

Assaph: The responses I get are overwhelmingly positive. Both authors and readers enjoy the quirky experience of letting the character sit on a guest couch and be interviewed. Both authors and readers also tell me that they are sometimes surprised by the answers they get.

Felix: For my part, I can say that it was a bit weird at the start. I didn’t quite get what it was all about, and I was reluctant to share secrets. Now I do have a better understanding of what’s involved, and I can say it can be a phenomenal experience for the character as well.

Assaph: Right, so that’s you agreeing to do another one – proper one – for the next book launch.

DB: What is the site’s primary purpose? Promote author name recognition? A way to increase book sales? Fun and entertainment?

Assaph: Yes – pretty much all of that. Authors and readers get to have a bit of fun, it helps increase exposure of the books to potential readers, and authors end up with long-life marketing collateral, something that can be shared to help increase buzz. Running the site is my way of giving back and helping fellow authors.

DB: Have you experienced an uptick in sales from The Protagonist Speaks?

Assaph: Modest, but yes. As with most marketing, it’s about repeatedly putting good content in front of potential buyers, till they make the decision to buy. Having these quirky interviews helps do just that – it’s a way to come across new authors, it’s a reason to share the books again, it gives more view-points into the author’s style that may help convince a reader that this is a book for them. There is definitely more engagement from authors who understand that, and I see more engagement when authors share it on social media and newsletters (beyond what I normally see when only I share the interviews).

DB: What is the process for an author to submit an interview with a character? Is there any cost?

Assaph: No costs. As said above, it’s my way of helping fellow authors. Heck, I half do it for myself – besides having an excuse to chat up authors I enjoy, I also discovered a few new favourites.

For anyone interested in joining, just fill out the Contact form on TheProtagonistSpeaks.com/Contact.

DB: Anything else you’d like to share with Kill Zone readers?

Assaph Mehr

Assaph: Thanks much for hosting us, Debbie! I promise I’m not as crazy as I sound, despite the voices in my head. Should any of your readers like to meet Felix more, there are a few free short stories and a free novella on my website here: egretia.com/short-stories. Those will give you an idea of the trials and tribulations of a private investigator during antiquity, dealing with the supernatural world (and why he wants to get paid, and I don’t want him to think I’m the cause of all his troubles).

Website: http://egretia.com

Facebook: http://facebook.com/AssaphMehrAuthor

Twitter: @assaphmehr

~~~

As a side note, after chatting with Assaph, I dragged the male lead in my thriller series, Tillman Rosenbaum, kicking and screaming, to Assaph’s interview couch. Please check out Tillman’s reluctant answers on March 5 at The Protagonist Speaks

~~~

TKZers: Do you ever interview your characters? Do their answers surprise you?

~~~

 

 

Debbie Burke’s characters really startled her in her new thriller Flight to Forever.  Discover the surprises here. 

 

Cover design by Brian Hoffman

Video Marketing and Social Media Tips

Videos make a lasting impression. We live in a visual, media-rich world. Marketing via video continues to rise. Experts say 86% of all content will be in video format by 2022. Let’s look at current trends first, then move on to how writers can dip their toes into video marketing without suffering a panic attack. BTW, if you missed John’s clear and concise post about Zoom, be sure to check it out.

Video Trends

Instagram and Facebook Stories allow users to share short-form, vertical videos that disappear after 24 hours. Instagram Stories have 500 million active daily users. I know! That number shocked me, too.

Stories should be informal, relaxed, and allow viewers a quick snapshot of your day or a behind-the-scenes glimpse of your world.

Optimize for Mobile Users

There’s a higher demand for vertical videos that fit on mobile screens. Why? Because 75% of users watch videos on their phones and vertical fits better than horizontal.

Length

Try to keep marketing videos to under two minutes. The shorter the video the greater chance of viewers watching till the end. This “rule” can change according to platform. On Facebook, if you run over, I wouldn’t worry about too much unless it’s an ad. Ads should be kept as short as possible. On Twitter and Instagram, keep it bite-sized.

Live Video

Eighty percent (80%) of shoppers say they’d rather watch a live video than read a blog post. Shoppers age 18-34 watch live content daily.

Optimize for Hearing Impaired

Add captions for the hearing impaired. This tip will also add clarity if the speaker has an accent. Plus, some viewers prefer to watch video with the sound off.

YouTube

As far as SEO — Search Engine Optimization — goes, YouTube tops the list. To give you some idea of why, YouTube is the world’s second-largest search engine. With this in mind, I created a nonfiction book trailer, uploaded it to YouTube, and shared the video across social media.

As you can see, I didn’t include captions like I should have. Yet, after I posted this video, the book rose to #1 New Release, proving (at least, to me) we can veer away from these “rules” and still be effective.

Writers & Social Media

Whether we like it or not, social media is a must for writers. With fewer book retailers, the discoverability of books depends on the author’s online footprint. Regardless of genre, it’s a fact that social media buzz directly impacts sales. More than 40% of book recommendations come from word-of-mouth, which often originates online.

Whenever a fellow writer asks me for help with social media, my top tip is to be yourself. Be genuine. Social media should be fun. If you’re not enjoying yourself, people will notice.

Always conduct yourself as a professional, but don’t hide the real you while doing it. There’s so much garbage and negativity on social media. As writers, we need to rise above it and not get swept up in a pissing match over political views or coronavirus facts vs. misinformation. If we’re not careful, our opinions on certain subject matters can and will hurt our writing career. Non-writers view us as neutral, and we need to live up to that standard.

You might say: Gee, we’re not even allowed to have an opinion? Of course, we are. What we don’t need to do is broadcast it all over social media. Same goes for complaining about rejection letters, querying, writing, marketing, books we didn’t enjoy, critiques, fellow writers, etc., etc., etc. Use social media as if the whole world is watching, because the whole world IS watching.

The follow-up question I most often receive is, “Be genuine, got it. But how do I let readers know the real me?”

The answer is simple. Share your joys, your passion, your excitement. For example, I recently shared a video of my first reaction to opening the box of PRETTY EVIL NEW ENGLAND paperbacks. I broke almost all the “rules” stated above here, too, but my Facebook audience didn’t care. They loved being included.

Your turn, TKZers! What are some ways you’ve used video marketing?

Join the giveaway for a chance to win the paperback of Pretty Evil New England: True Stories of Violent Vixens and Murderous Matriarchs. Winner will be notified via email and announced in my November 2, 2020 post. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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!

It Helps If You Can Write

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

“For a long time now I have tried to simply write the best I can. Sometimes I have luck and write better than I can.” – Ernest Hemingway

There’s an old joke about a guy who gets paired with a priest for a round of golf. They hit the first green in regulation. The priest has a thirty-foot putt with a big break. He crosses himself and drains the putt.

The guy misses a five-footer.

On the next green, the priest crosses himself and nails a fifteen footer. The guy misses his.

Same story on the third green.

As they’re about to tee off on the fourth hole, the guy says, “Father, I noticed what you do before you putt. You think if I crossed myself I’d start making mine?”

The priest says, “It couldn’t hurt, my son.”

On the fourth hole the guy has a straight ten footer. He crosses himself, putts, and misses.

“So what happened?” he asks the priest.

And the priest says, “Well, it helps if you can putt.”

Which is how I feel about the whole how do I sell more books issue.

For many writers out there, unleashing a plethora of fancy marketing tricks is like crossing yourself. It can’t hurt. But to sell and keep selling, it helps if you can write.

The data backs this up. For example, BookBub recently put out an infographic based on a survey of their subscribers. Natch, most of them use BookBub to select new titles. But from there, two old reliables assert themselves as the largest slices of the book-buying pie.

The biggest factor is word of mouth. Overwhelmingly (and it has always been thus) people buy books they hear about from trusted sources. This usually means someone they know and can rely on, but also includes online communities such as Goodreads and well-trafficked blogs.

The other big slice is when an author someone has enjoyed in the past comes out with a new title. Once this happens a couple of times, the author has made a fan.

And how are fans created? By really good reads.

The $64,000 question (for those of you who remember the cultural derivation of that term) is this: What constitutes a really good read?

I am going to tell you.

It depends.

Thanks for stopping by!

Okay, here’s what I mean: It depends on your genre, your voice, your professionalism. It means you are able to write a book that not only meets expectations, but in some way exceeds them.

In other words, not just the “same old.” Because we’ve got too much of that. It means adding your own special something to the story.

I think of the old pulp writers. Who were the ones who caught on and were able to sell issue after issue, book after book?

Raymond Chandler, who could write description and dialogue like a trench-coated angel.

Erle Stanley Gardner, who could create twisty-turny plots featuring the smartest lawyer in the world.

Robert E. Howard, whose voice was as big and bold as the Texas winds that raised him.

Max Brand (real name: Fred Faust), the most prolific of them all, who elevated the standard Western into something that reaches into the soul.

I could go on, and we all can create our own list of favorite writers. What they will have in common is storytelling ability and “something more” that resonates with us.

Marketing only gets you an introduction. It’s your writing that does the heavy lifting. Which is why I offer a free novella to those who want to sample my wares. That’s a fair exchange. It’s like an arranged lunch date. As long as I don’t have broccoli in my teeth, maybe a reader will want to read more of my stuff.

So to you writers just starting out, or are trying to get a foothold in the market—keep learning and growing. Yes, you’ll need to lay a marketing foundation (e.g. a website, a bit of social media presence).

But keep the main thing the main thing: Always strive to write your best and sometimes you’ll have good luck and write better than you can!