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!

5+