The Opening as Part of the Closing … of the Deal

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

It’s no secret we live in the age of the declining attention span.

How ’bout those Dodgers?

Where was I? Oh yes, attention spans. Declining.

We all know the causes. Phones, tablets, the infinite galaxy known as the internet, 24/7 social media, apps, games, noise, news, and the dopamine effect that comes from escaping reality in the blink of an eye or the texting of the thumbs. These multiform avenues of distraction come in small bites, too, like a bottomless bowl of Skittles. You’ve all been there. You’re chewing a red, it’s not even down the hatch yet, and you’re already reaching for the next one, or a handful of next ones.

Impatience has replaced contemplation. Annoyance erupts the moment the old lady in front of you in the grocery store line mutters, “Let me see, I think I have change in here somewhere.”

We’ve done a number of first page critiques here at TKZ, because everyone knows how important it is. Because of decreasing attention spans and the “need for speed” in everything we do, those first pages are crucial because they are one of the biggest influences on a browser’s buying decision.

I recall hearing about a study years ago of bookstore browsing habits. The typical sequence: a cover captured attention; the browser picks it up and reads the dust-jacket copy, sees who the author is, then opens to the first page. If it captivates them they are within striking distance of a buying decision.

It’s the same today online. A reader on Amazon is shown other thumbnail book covers that an algorithm has determined they might be interested in. A cover attracts, you click on it, get taken to the sales page where you can look at the description (cover copy). The page offers you a “Look inside” peek. You can also download a sample.

And there we are again, at the opening pages.

For years I’ve taught that the opening page and, indeed, the opening paragraph (and even further, if you can do it, the opening line) should be about a disturbance to that character’s ordinary world. Why? Because the reader doesn’t know who the character is yet. So what’s the quickest way to get them interested? Trouble.

We all respond to someone else in trouble. Even a total stranger. It’s our human condition. And most readers are still human.

Now, every so often I’ll read a blog post that takes umbrage (when was the last time you had a good old dose of umbrage?) at the idea of having to “open with a bang” or “some kind of action.” They’ll usually start off with some form of restatement of the sentiment There are no rules! And then go on to describe that this is their story, and they will open it up they way they see fit (which always strikes me as a bit odd, because they are not the ones plunking down the money for the story, so isn’t it also a story for the readers? Just asking.)

What I would say in answer is simply this: do you want people to buy your books or not?

Okay, then let me suggest you alter your opening page so there is something disturbing happening from the jump. After the reader buys your book you can entrance them with your style all you like. But if you don’t engage their attention-challenged sensibilities immediately, you may not get the chance.

Have a look at this opening:

The day was sunny and breezy, if cool––the first semi-decent weather after a long, hard, bitter winter––and Kate didn’t actually mind an excuse to get out in the world. She wouldn’t take the cat, though; she would walk.

She stepped out the front door, shutting it extra hard behind her because it irked her that Bunny was sleeping so late. The ground cover along the front walk had a twiggy, littered look, and she made a mental note to spruce it up after she finished with the hellebores.

Swinging the lunch bag by its twist-tied neck, she passed the Mintzes’ house and the Gordons’ house––stately brick center-hall Colonials like the Battistas’ own, although better maintained––and turned the corner. Mrs. Gordon was kneeling among her azalea bushes, spreading mulch around their roots.

If I were doing the critique here at TKZ, I’d start off by quoting one agent who was asked what she disliked in an opening. “Slow writing with a lot of description will put me off very quickly,” she said. Most readers would agree.

The above clip is actually a slight adaptation of a section from Chapter 1 of Anne Tyler’s novel Vinegar Girl. But it’s a later section, not the actual opening. This is the first page:

Kate Battista was gardening out back when she heard the telephone ring in the kitchen. She straightened up and listened. Her sister was in the house, although she might not be awake yet. But then there was another ring, and two more after that, and when she finally heard her sister’s voice it was only the announcement on the answering machine. “Hi-yee! It’s us? We’re not home, looks like? So leave a––”

By that time Kate was striding toward the back steps, tossing her hair off her shoulders with an exasperated “Tcch!” She wiped her hands on her jeans and yanked the screen door open. “Kate,” her father was saying, “pick up.”

She lifted the receiver. “What,” she said.

“I forgot my lunch.”

Which leads to a short, disturbing conversation and then Kate’s reflection on why it’s disturbing. The other part, walking in the neighborhood, doesn’t come until after. (Note that a disturbance doesn’t have to be “big” like a car chase, ghost, or awakening in a hospital room. Just something that causes at least a ripple of portent in the character’s life.)

My point is that for any genre (including literary), beginning with a disturbance is actually part of a well-rounded marketing strategy––because it helps to close the deal by incentivizing a purchase.

This is not a compromise of your artistic vision! You have a whole novel for your artistic vision.

But if you want the readers to experience it, they have to want to buy the book. Don’t give them a reason to pass.

What about you? Do you read the “Look inside” sample on Amazon before you buy? Are you less patient with books these days?

How about less patient in general?

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Amazon Marketing Services Coming May 1 – Thoughts?

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

amazon-logo-15

Amazon Marketing Services (AMS) will launch May 1, 2016. What does this mean to you, authors? As an Advantage or CreateSpace publisher, you can sign up for AMS for an annual fee of $99.00. Word of caution, from what I’ve seen of the sign-up instructions, this is for Kindle Select books only. The annual fee is charged against your account as a deduction from your sales. No Paypal or credit card charge up front. Once you become a “member” of AMS, you gain access to marketing programs reserved for Amazon’s biggest vendors. Feel empowered yet?

Below are the programs available to members:

Advertising on Keywords/Tags – Pay Per Click

The right keywords and tags can help you with discoverability on your titles at Amazon while setting your own budget allowance for promotion. Popular keywords, phrases, and tags on a book can generate momentum on search pages to get a title noticed. You’d only pay when a reader clicks on your book ad. According to Amazon, a click budget can be as low at $100.00, capping off your cost at your option.

Enhanced “A+” Detail Pages

Sometimes bling is the thing to showcase a book. Amazon offers enticing content for an author’s book page for $600, such as videos, sample page shots, photos and other creative promotion ideas. The deluxe page content also features advanced formatting and rich media content to tease the readers to buy.

Price Discounts

This is a really great idea. Amazon now offers vendor-provided coupon links (offered on the product detail page) to give readers/customers immediate discounts off the Amazon sales price. This will allow you to offer true sales campaigns and promotions during a peak period, in a more nimble way than ever before. You can drive sales during a virtual tour event or for a given weekend or launch period with ease.

Dashboard Sales Analytics

Want to evaluate your promotion effectiveness with REAL sales data? Now you can with AMS. If you’d like to evaluate one campaign service provider or a blog tour or advertising on Facebook for example, now you can if you isolate the event and analyze the effectiveness through analytics offered on the AMS dashboard. You’ll be able to analyze your return on investment down to the title and event to fine tune your marketing strategies with real sales data.

Vine Reviews

Chasing reviews can be a challenge if you want exposure and honest reviews. The cost for promotion service providers to solicit readers for an honest review can take time to scrutinize the potential reader and the cost for such a service can vary. Amazon had its established Vine Reviewers program of pre-approved reviewers. This is a costly service, priced at $1500.00, but it allows you to access the entire Vine Reviewer list without taking the time to approach them one at a time. If you invest in this service, AMS handles the details.

How to sign up for AMS?
If you’re curious about this new Amazon program, here is the link for AMS – https://ams.amazon.com/  I have to admit that I thought this would be for ANY KDP author. That’s how it is presented under the instructions as you set up, but when you drill down into the instructions on page 2, it appears these services are only for Kindle Select books.

Or you can do what I tried to do, which is set up my corporation (or my publishing company name) under the Amazon Advantage program at this LINK. (I thought I could set up as a vendor.) But alas, I could not set up under the Advantage program as a vendor under my company name OR my brand name (author name). On the surface it would appear Amazon is forcing authors into their KDP SELECT program to become a member of AMS. If anyone knows any differently, or had another approach and was successful, please let me know.

I’ve read that if your book has an ISBN and you’re signed up through Createspace, this might get you into AMS, but after I explored Createspace, I did not find a way into AMS this way either.

Here’s link to an Amazon brochure on “Drive Sales with Amazon Marketing Services.”

Here is a FAQ link.

For Discussion:

1.) What do you think of the tools AMS makes available to all authors? Which service are you most interested in?

2.) Is anyone a member already? Have you encountered any problems?

3.) What do you think of the exclusivity of having this program only available to Kindle Select, meaning your book will only be sold on Amazon for a time under those rules?

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Value of Listserves

I just learned this tip from one of my listserves: Bowker is running a 20% off discount in honor of family history month. The code is Family20 that you apply at checkout. I don’t know how long this discount lasts, so I jumped on it. It’s Sunday morning. I saved $59.00. While on site, I also saw you could buy 10 ISBNs and get a deal to purchase another 10 with it for 50% off the second batch.

This tip came from the Fantasy, Futuristic, & Paranormal Romance loop that I belong to with my RWA membership. I’m not too active there now since I am working only on my Bad Hair Day mysteries at this time, but gems like this one make it worthwhile to keep my membership.

A post on the FRW (Florida Romance Writers) listserve is how I learned about TweetJukebox (http://www.tweetjukebox.com/ ). This site has saved me a considerable amount of time.

What is a listserve? (Note: The trademarked term is LISTSERV) It’s a group email list that you join, usually through yahoo groups. You can choose to receive individual emails or a Daily Digest. The latter allows you to scan the topics and jump to the ones that interest you by clicking on a link.

Much of what I’ve learned about self-publishing, promotion, and business of writing tips has come from the listserves where I belong. I mine them for jewels of information. When I see something relevant, even if it’s not info I need immediately, I copy and paste it into a file. Thus when I am ready to venture out—like into audio books through ACX—I have a complete file with tips and instructions I’ve gleaned from various listserves.

Some of these groups require you to be a member to join. Others are available to all writers. In my view, they might be time-consuming emails but they’re worth their weight in gold—or in this case, in dollars saved. It’s writers helping writers. or writers connecting with readers.

book club

So here are the listserves where I belong. I’ve included the link if it’s open to the public. DorothyL is the only one that is not a yahoo group.

Mystery
Cozy Armchair Group (Readers): cozyarmchairgroup@yahoogroups.com
Crime Scene Writer (Research Questions): crimescenewriter@yahoogroups.com
Dorothy L (Readers): Mystery Literature E-conference DOROTHYL@LISTSERV.KENT.EDU
International Thriller Writers (members only)
Murder Must Advertise (Writers on Marketing) MurderMustAdvertise@yahoogroups.com
Mystery Buffs (Writers & Readers) https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/mysterybuffs/info
Mystery Writers of America: (members only): EMWA, MWA-Breakout, MWA-Self-Publishing
Mystery Writers Promo (private group)
Sisters in Crime: (members only)
Sleuthmail: (Florida Chapter MWA members only)

Romance
Fantasy, Futuristic, and Paranormal RWA chapter: (members only)
Florida Romance Writers: (members only)
Marketing for Romance Writers: MarketingForRomanceWriters@yahoogroups.com
Romance Writers of America: (members only) PAN, Tech, Industry, News
Southwest Florida Romance Writers: (members only)

Other
ELoop: Eloop@yahoogroups.com
Lifeboat Team: Private group – Booklover’s Bench writers
Novelists, Inc: (members only)
Self-Publish: selfpublish-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

Publishers
Five Star: (FS authors only)
The Wild Rose Press: (WRP authors only)
The Wild Rose Press (readers) TheWildRosePress@yahoogroups.com

Do you have any other recommendations?

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Paid Book Reviews

Nancy J. Cohen

There’s a disturbing trend toward paid reviews. Indie authors may have a difficult time getting their books reviewed, so this is an option for them. But it’s an issue for any traditionally published author who wishes to get more critical reviews for their new release, aside from the places where their publisher has sent advance reading copies. Here are some sites I’ve heard of but am by no means recommending. Do the research on your own.

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Kirkus Indie Reviews: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/author-services/indie/ costs $425. You can submit 2 print copies or a digital submission.

Publishers Weekly: At a site called Book Life, you can register your title and decide what services you want, i.e. getting your book reviewed or help with marketing. http://booklife.com/ It appears to be free, but marketing services are available. http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/diy/index.html

RT Book Reviews: This magazine offers a paid service for $425 through RT Review Source: http://www.rtreviewsource.com/

Net Galley: $399 for a six month title listing, or $599 for a listing along with a spot in their newsletter. https://netgalley.uservoice.com/knowledgebase/articles/105722-do-you-work-with-individual-authors . Here your book might attract the attention of librarians, booksellers, reviewers and bloggers.

Edelweiss: If you’re traditionally published, ask if your book is listed at Edelweiss. This is where booksellers and librarians go to browse and place orders. Reviewers can request digital ARCs there too. Publishers pay for listings. The pricing for the catalog is based on the number of titles the publisher plans to feature in a year. An administrative fee is also charged annually for this service. In addition, there’s a digital review service that publishers can participate in either separately or along with the catalog listing. http://edelweiss.abovethetreeline.com/HomePage.aspx

Choosy Bookworm: http://authors.choosybookworm.com/book-reviews/ . For $99, they hint you might get 30 interested readers who will post reviews but no guarantees.

Nerdy Girls Book Reviews: http://nerdygirlbookreviews.com/authors/ Their basic package is $49 for 30-35 reader reviews.

Chanticleer Book Reviews cost $325: http://www.chantireviews.com/book-reviews/

Of course, you have many other options. Go on a blog tour where the hosts offer reviews. Do giveaways on Goodreads and LibraryThing and hope that the winners post their consumer reviews. Or buy inexpensive ads where a review might be part of the package. It’s not easy to attract the big guns but you can still get bloggers on your side.

How do you feel about paid reviews?

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Book Talk Checklist

Nancy J. Cohen

Do you give talks at libraries, bookstores, or community groups? If so, here’s a handy checklist so you don’t forget your essential items.

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Autographed by Author Stickers Optional; not all readers want a sticker on their signed book.

Book Cover of Upcoming Release

Bookmarks: Yes, readers still like them. And even if your books are only available in ebook format, a bookmark or postcard is a reminder the guest can take home.

Books to Donate: Optional; This works for a library donation or door prizes if you’re a guest speaker at a community group.

Box of Books: Always bring a box or two for when you sell your own; otherwise keep some in your car trunk in case the bookseller doesn’t come through.

Bottle of Water: This isn’t necessary if you’re in a conference hotel that provides water for speakers or if the talk takes place at a restaurant.

Business Cards: Be sure to include your website, blog, and social media URLs.

Calculator: This might be needed if you are selling your own books, or else bring a pad of notepaper to add the cost of multiple copies. Or use your cell phone for this purpose.

Camera: Bring a camera or use your cell phone to take pictures of your event.

Cash: Bring an envelope with small bills for change if you are selling your own books. Consider if you want a credit card app on your cell phone or if you will accept personal checks.

Computer Thumb Drive or Laptop: If you are doing a PowerPoint presentation.

Conference Brochures and Flyers: For your local writers’ group for recruitment purposes.

Handouts: If you are doing a lecture, bring a handout people can take home. It’s always appreciated and stays with them longer than a PowerPoint presentation.

Mailing List Sign-up Sheet: This is the most important item to bring. If you are speaking to a writers group, offer to send new sign-ups a file via email of a related handout of interest to them.

Notices of Upcoming Appearances: If you have a slate of appearances, give it to attendees. They might tell a friend who’ll want to hear you speak.

Printed Promotional Material: i.e. postcards, bookmarks, and brochures for your series.

Sharpie fine point black ink permanent markers: Bring plenty of pens, but not expensive ones in case you lose them.

Wheels: You’ll need to haul boxes of books if you bring your own. Look in luggage stores for folding wheels or put the books in a carry-on size suitcase.

With this handy checklist, you won’t forget anything important. What else would you add?

 

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12 Tips for a Book Blog Tour

Nancy J. Cohen

If you wish to do a blog tour, determine if you want to offer guest posts, author interviews, reviews, and/or book blasts for your new release. Then determine which hosts you’ll want to solicit. Aim for popular blogs that get a lot of hits and target your particular genre or thematic content. Approach them by asking if you can be a guest on their site. Make sure you study their content and note the length of their typical posts.

I’ve had bloggers approach me to contribute to my site. I’ve turned down some of them because it was clear their business had nothing to do with a writing career. On the other hand, I’ve had cozy mystery or paranormal romance authors query me politely about a guest spot. In those cases, if I feel they’ll have something to contribute to my readers, I say yes. My personal blog readers respond the most to writing craft and marketing articles, so I am selective about guests.

If you don’t care to DIY, you can hire a virtual tour company. However, you’ll still have to publicize the tour, show up on the date of the post, answer comments, and offer giveaways. Send an author photo and book cover image along with your post to the host.

Here are some blog tour companies:
Goddish Fish Promotions http://www.goddessfish.com/tours.htm
Great Escapes Book Tours (Free for Cozy Mysteries) http://www.escapewithdollycas.com/great-escapes-virtual-book-tours
Bewitching Book Tours (Paranormal Romance) http://bewitchingbooktours.blogspot.com/
Buy the Book Tours http://www.buythebooktours.com/#axzz2OqJtoGjs
Partners in Crime (Crime, Mystery & Thrillers) http://www.partnersincrimetours.net/

12 Tips for your Virtual Blog Tour:

  1. Slant your blog to the audience you hope to reach.
  2. Vary your guest posts with a mix of interviews, articles and reviews.
  3. Space the dates out so you don’t clog the loops with your announcements.
  4. Write your posts ahead of time.
  5. Include a short excerpt from your book with your article when possible.
  6. Add buy links to your book along a story blurb, plus links to your website, blog, FB page, and Twitter at the end of your post.
  7. Plan to be available to answer comments all day when your post goes live.
  8. List the tour as an Event on your various social media sites.
  9. Publish the blog tour dates and topics on your website.
  10. Consider offering a giveaway for commenters with each post.
  11. Have a grand prize using Rafflecopter or a random drawing from all commenters.
  12. Thank your host at the end of the day when your post appears.

For next time, write down blog topics as you write your WIP. This way, you’ll have a ready list of topics available when you need them (i.e. research, the writing process, what inspired you to write this story, world building, themes, etc.).

A blog tour can help you gain exposure to new readers who might not have known about your work. It takes a lot of advance planning, publicity, and commitment to make it a success. A blog tour is another tool to raise your readership and possibly garner some reviews. Schedule with the companies listed above or with your selected hosts as far in advance as you can. So decide upon a target date for your tour and go for it.

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