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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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. 

My First Experience with a BookBub Feature Deal & The Last Victim (Nov 5)

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

I wanted to share my latest foray into a major promotion run. I’d heard good things about BookBub, had researched it before, but never submitted a book until last week. This promo option isn’t cheap. It’s a real leap of faith that you’ll sell more than the feature costs. I made sure that I ticked off the boxes I knew about, to make my submission more appealing to the stringent requirements to qualify.

Founded in 2012, BookBub has been featured in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, showcasing their huge outreach to avid readers with their daily deal emails to millions of subscribers. This is a free service to readers, vetted by an expert editorial team with handpicked recommendations. It doesn’t sell books directly, but offers books from authors that are available through major ebook retailers and devices. It also focuses your feature to readers interested in YOUR genre.

If you’re a published author, you can claim your books and create a profile to grow your followers on a forum for readers that an author can cultivate directly. I had never “claimed” my author profile and didn’t realize I had followers. Plus not all of my most recent books were listed, so I had to update my profile after they authorize me as the author.

BookBub scrutinizes the books it selects, so I knew I had to adhere to recommendations other authors had shared online about their experiences. HERE is the list of requirements from BookBub, but there are other websites and blog posts with more help, too.

The book I submitted is The Last Victim (published 2015) and here are details on what I had to do.

BookBub Submission – TIPS

I had a professionally designed cover that I knew would be acceptable from my experience. BookBub scrutinizes submissions for a well-formatted book, free of typos and grammatical errors. They also want books that have accumulated enough good reviews without sharing how many that is. This can be intimidating. The Last Victim has 26 reviews for an average of 4.4 out of 5. I really didn’t know if they were looking for 50+ but I went for it. Don’t let one deficiency in a selection criteria force you to back down. If you don’t succeed, keep learning and try again.

I had great cover blurbs/praises to pitch on my book and across my branding platforms (website & social media) from well-known authors, magazines, and critical reviews from professional editorial sources. (Don’t let this tip scare you. I accumulated mine over time. You can too.)

The Last Victim is a full novel that has never been discounted. It normally sells for $3.99, but I submitted it to BookBub for a special, limited offer of $0.99 across all retailer platforms that I listed in my submission.

My novel is widely available on all the retailers BookBub features and then some: Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Google, and iBooks. Since it was published by my publishing arm, Cosas Finas Publishing, I had world rights, which I knew would appeal to BookBub.

My BookBub feature will be Nov 5 – 12. They prefer limited offers of free or discounted by at least 50%, rather than books that are perma-free.

HERE are BookBub’s tips.

I also submitted with a flexible promotion date, but when they came back with “Can you do by Nov 5th?” – I found out how much I didn’t have prepared for this type of exposure. This is why I wanted to post my article on the experience. It’s a good problem to have, but very nerve-wracking when I am in the middle of releasing two back-to-back novellas on Oct 31 & Nov 7th. Of course, I had to go for it, even if it only becomes a “what not to do” experience. Below are some of the things I have done to prepare and I’m sure there will be much more as the BookBub feature draws nearer.

MY STRATEGY SCRAMBLE

1.) Since The Last Victim was a 2015 release, I had to update the back material to include my updated Biblio, author bio, and add promo links for my new website mailing list and ads for my upcoming releases, as any traditional publisher would do. I went through my layout formatter to save me time. I use Wizards in Publishing.

2.) I created a spreadsheet of target promotion opportunities, both free and paid for, to expand my reach beyond my mailing list and track costs against estimated revenue. BookBub gives you its estimate for likely sales, but it is up to you to get the word out and set higher goals. I plan to set up my estimates, then compare them to what actually happened afterwards, to create a learning tool that I can refine. Bottom line – It takes a lot of eyeballs for sales to result. I used subscriber numbers, but estimated sales at a fraction of 1% to be conservative. It’s all “pie in the sky” stuff until the dust settles and sales are determined. At that time, I’ll need to do an autopsy to see what clearly worked.

3.) What are the best ways (& sites) to pay for promotion? Good question. Since I needed boosted sales across several retailers, I chose to look at ads at Kobo, Amazon, and the other retailers. These aren’t cheap so I had to make decisions. The bargain books websites that are popular and most effective aren’t cheap either, because they can add up. They also don’t take just any ad that you pay for. Some sites require you to submit your book for their consideration & it could take up to 7 days to hear back. (I won’t know about some until my feature is about to start or has started.) These promo sites’ loyalty is first to their subscribers, so that means you have to allow enough lead time or make due with what you can get.

4.) I submitted to EreaderNewsToday and needed approval. BargainBooksy, KindleNationDaily (& their multiple platforms), EBookLister, and AwesomeGang didn’t require approval and charged only a minimal amount. There are countless sites where they will list your book for free. Some allow you to post once and they will cross post, but since I don’t know how effective this would be for my limited time, I chose certain sites for maximum exposure.

5.) I created an Amazon Marketing Services (AMS) Ad Campaign (access I already had as a vendor through my publishing company) to run during the time of the feature and will up the cost per click but limit the dollar daily total to gain the likelihood the ad will be competitive for placement and exposure. Since this ad will run for a specific time (to parallel my BookBub Feature Deal), I could get aggressive on my budget.

6.) I haven’t considered a Facebook Ad because I don’t know how effective they are in relation to real sales. AMS give you direct access to analytics on clicks and traffic compared to actual sales. If I’m going to spend money, I prefer Amazon where the most of my sales would come from and can be traced and translated into sales.

7.) What could I do to promo without cost? I had access as a contributing author to several fan groups under various Amazon Kindle Worlds. To the credit of the authors who created these groups, they generously allow their authors to promo other books, and we try to give exclusive giveaways back to their readers in return. So the groups that I had cultivated by writing for these Kindle Worlds, I have access to for a post and the reader fans are so much fun and generous with their support. That has value.

8.) I have my mailing list and had just updated my website to WordPress format. This allows me to update quickly and post when I need to. Updating came at a very good time. Even though it was time consuming to transfer content, it was well-worth the effort.

As of this post, I’ll still be prepping for the feature and up to my eyeballs in two releases – Valentine: Steel Heart (Available Now) and Fiona’s Salvation (Nov 7). This BookBub feature for The Last Victim is from Nov 5-12, so the overlap is stressful, but it can help with exposure. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself.

Other Resources

I found these additional links that could be helpful. Here is a link to “Reasons Why Books are Rejected as BookBub Feature Deals.” I don’t normally like to focus on negatives, but there are good points made in this article that could help you succeed.

This link compares BookBub against two other promo sites: Book Gorilla & Fussy Librarian. The costs vary, but so does the exposure and the requirements may not fit your book or your goals.

For Discussion

1.) Has anyone had experience with BookBub? What worked and didn’t work for you? I’d love to hear your experiences.

2.) Besides BookBub, are there other ways to feature your discounted sales that you’ve found to be effective?

Valentine: Steel Heart (Novella 1 of 2)

Love made him vulnerable…once.

After a tragic killing on an Amtrak train, the Phoenix Agency use a mysterious covert operative, Braxton Valentine, as bait to lure a deadly cartel boss from hiding, but grief-stricken Valentine becomes their worst nightmare—a rogue operator with a death wish.

(Valentine: In the Cross Hairs – Book 2 of 2 coming Feb 2018)

The Rising Costs of Touring

by Michelle Gagnon

One of our local independents just announced that in the future, authors will be charged a $75 fee to hold an event at the bookstore.

Immediately, the local bookish listservs lit up. Words like “heinous” and “disgraceful” were thrown around. Boycotts were threatened; conversely, so were Occupy Wall Street-style sit-ins.

I understand that times are tough for booksellers, and that independent bookstores are vanishing faster than the proverbial snowball on a Texas summer day. I also appreciate the fact that by and large, most author events are a losing proposition. Frequently stores stay open late to host the event, which means paying overtime for staff to set up/clean up, ring in purchases, and MC. They also pay extra overhead during those hours (lights, heat, AC, etc), not to mention the costs of publicizing the reading via posters, newspaper listings, mailings, etc.

I get all that. But the thing is, times are tough for authors now, too. Advances have decreased dramatically. Print runs are smaller. Already negligible marketing budgets have now withered to the point of being virtually non-existent. There’s less co-op space available than ever before, and the battle for those critical high-visibility spots is intense.

A few years ago, I visited twenty-seven bookstores over the course of six weeks to promote my book. Had I been forced to pay seventy-five dollars to each vendor, it would have cost me nearly two grand. Mind you, that doesn’t include my own considerable expenses: gas and/or tolls if I drive to the event, flights and hotels if I fly. Most authors not only organize their own tours, they also pay all the associated costs out of pocket, chalking it up to necessary marketing fees. And sometimes, you drive an hour (or, heaven forbid, fly for a few), arrive at the store, and end up pitching your song and dance routine to three people, one of whom is the bookseller.

But we do it anyway. Because it isn’t just about selling books the night of the event (although that certainly never hurts). The main goal is to get to know the bookseller, and develop a relationship that will hopefully lead to them selling copies of your book long after you’ve exited the premises. At least, that’s always the hope.

Moreover, this does seem a bit unjust. There are authors who have the marketing machine squarely in their corner, whose tours are planned for them, who are met at the airport by media escorts who cart them from store to store. Authors who routinely attract between 50-100 people wherever they appear. Authors who, I’m willing to bet, will never have to dive into their own pockets to pay that $75 fee–in all likelihood, their publisher will pay it for them, and they’ll have no idea that the exchange even took place.

So here’s my proposition. Charge those authors more for their events: $125, say, or $150. For a top tier bestseller, the publishers will throw down that amount without blinking. Keep the events free for writers who aren’t regulars on the NY Times list. Give the midlisters a chance to get the word out about their books via your store, and who knows–maybe someday, they’ll be the ones attracting shoppers in droves.

That’s my two cents. But then, I can’t quite see myself camping out in the middle of a shopping mall with a placard.

It would be truly sad to see the grand tradition of book touring fall by the wayside, yet another casualty of the ebook onslaught.