C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

Write and publish with love and fury.

Book promotions: Good, Bad and Fugly

As authors, we are all searching for greater visibility for our books. That search leads us to pursue various promotional avenues. The attempt to promote can be frustrating. Let’s take it as a given that you have great covers, enticing blurbs and solid stories between those covers. Today we’re exploring ways to sell masterpieces:

FACEBOOK ADS

Everybody says Facebook ads are the answer (except a bunch of people who tried them, started crying and failed.) Frustration is understandable. The FB interface is not user friendly. Most of the authors I know who achieve success with these ads have to do a lot of testing to get the results they want. Getting clicks without paying exorbitant rates requires a lot of testing and targeting your audience carefully. There are several courses and books on the subject. When you test your ads, keep your expenditures low until your variables align for success.

AMAZON ADS

These can be hit or miss. I suggest checking out Mastering Amazon Ads by Brian Meeks. Everything I could say on the subject would be me doing my best impression of his pet parrot.

PROMOTIONAL SITES

There are a plethora out there: Fussy Librarian, Booksends, Freebooksy, Bargain Booksy, Red Feather Romance, etc.,…. One author told me ENT isn’t as effective as it used to be since Facebook changed its policies. In a recent promotion, I tried ENT, Freebooksy and BookGoodies. My giveaways landed with 547, 978 and 303 respectively. Not stellar, though I would expect that little push to pan out eventually because the promotion was for the first of a big series. Of course, the granddaddy of book promotion sites is Bookbub. You have no doubt heard it’s harder to get in than it used to be. It’s still worth trying that locked door on a regular basis. Sometimes they forget to lock it and you can sneak in.

NEWSLETTERS

The command that we must all have a newsletter is so ubiquitous it’s become a tired cliche. It can be difficult to entice people to join a newsletter. We all have so many cluttering our inboxes, mostly unread. I’ve signed up for quite a few but eventually disengaged from almost all of them because there’s so little value there. To get newsletter subscribers, you have to give away something good. However, if it’s too good, aren’t you just getting people looking for freebies? Cull your list when you can. Subscribers who don’t care what you have to say unless you’re giving out Amazon gift cards aren’t your target demographic. A smaller list that is engaged is far more valuable than a huge list of Looky Lous.

There’s a theory in the ether that building a huge newsletter list is protection against changes in the whims of online book retailers and ultimately, we should plan to go direct to the reader. Going direct is so far beyond the budget and technological capability of most authors that it’s almost silly to think too hard in those terms, especially for fiction. It’s not impossible but for most it’s unlikely.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a newsletter. I’m saying I find no joy in it and I don’t send out enough of them. Since there’s no conversation, it feels like I’m Tom Hanks trapped on an island trying to signal a passing ship with a pen flashlight. Do your newsletter better than I do my newsletter. I’m stuck talking to a volleyball named Wilson and he’s utterly useless in the conversation department.

IN-PERSON MEETUPS

This can take the form of book signings or going to book fairs. This is Old School and a far less efficient way of finding your tribe. If you enjoy the experience, great. Make sure you’re clear on your goals and if it’s not working, pour your energy elsewhere.

Here’s the trick: don’t count on selling a lot of books in person unless you’re already selling a lot of books online. I once saw a popular horror writer with a long line of eager fans waiting to engage with her at the Toronto Fan Expo. Beside that popular author were ten more writers looking lonely, envious and impoverished. On the other hand, a friend of mine goes to a lot of book fairs with the aim of networking with fellow authors and publishers. It’s helping him build his empire. Selling paperbacks is secondary. He rarely sells a ton of books at these things but that’s not necessarily his goal. 

PODCASTS

You must have a hook, a show structure, solid planning and a good mic. Good guests and compelling content could conceivably grow an audience to which you could market if the subject matter aligns. I’ve been involved with many podcasts and hosted my own. My best advice is to plan to invest more time in prep than the actual podcasting part. Too many podcasters have no plan and don’t know who their audience is. Your content needs to be exhaustive but your audience must be very specific. Since there are so few ways to promote a podcast effectively, it’s a real meritocracy and an intimidating mountain to climb.

AUTHOR WEBSITES

You need one. You knew that already. Don’t make more websites for different books. You’ll end up ignoring a website that way. Conglomerate. Post. Be sexy. Do stuff there. Your author site is not the hub of all you do as an author but it is the face people see when they bother search you out.

Just starting out? You still need an author site. A simple WordPress blog is fine. Wix and Squarespace are a bit fancier. Just do it (and use Sumo to help grow your readership and ROI.)

BLOGS

They’re dead. Yes, I know you are reading this on a blog, but as a book promotion vehicle for fiction, it’s iffy at best. I used to blog here every day (back when people asked, “What’s a blog?”) Then I figured out I’d spend my time better writing another book, and another and another. Now I only blog when I’m sure I have something to say that may be useful. (If someone gets grumpy about what I write here, it’s even less useful to me. We only have so much energy and you can’t make more time so manage those expenditures carefully.)

FACEBOOK LIVE and YOUTUBE

Video killed the radio star. Video grabs more eyeballs on Facebook. Video is so, like, Now, baby. So Now. And you can even do it with your phone.

Who is a solid model for how to use video best? For non-fiction, I’d say the guy who does it best is Chris Fox. Since his videos will inform your fiction enterprise, as well, here’s his channel on YouTube.

FACEBOOK FAN CLUBS

I finally started up a Facebook group for my readers and I love it. The complaint  about hosting a book promotion tool on a site you don’t own is that the platform can change the rules of exposure, kick you out or fade away. I doubt Facebook is going away but it can cost you to try to be seen there.

Here’s what I love about talking to an inner circle of book readers, though: it’s not just about book promotion. My tribe likes my books and I like talking to them. I don’t know what to put in a newsletter unless a new book is about to come out. I do know Facebook and I enjoy it. I’m engaging with people who know my work and dig what I do. They get me. I dig them back.

I started this up very recently but I’ve found it to be casual, easy and one of the joys of my day. I talk about writing, the writing life, reading, sneak peeks, movie reviews, going to the gym, my insomnia, not going to the gym…whatever. Plus, people in my group are entered into a draw to get a character named after them in my next book. See? Fun. No selling and no drudgery. 

It’s a lot more fun than worrying about newsletter content, open rates and unsubscribes. It’s real engagement on both ends. Goodbye, Wilson. 

WRITING THE NEXT BOOK

This used to be more reliable, simple and organic. Developing a series and building a popular franchise with strong stories? All that is critical. However, book promotion techniques and paying for advertising are necessary now, too. You must pay to advertise just like any business. Even Coca Cola still feels the need to advertise (for some damn reason) so certainly we need to invest in advertising to get noticed. Don’t try to do everything on the cheap. That mindset hampered my early efforts.

WRITE THE NEXT BOOK FASTER

This is different from Writing the Next Book. This is the acknowledgement that writers who can produce good work at pulp speed build a list faster. They have more to sell. Their fans are less likely to forget them. Their books will appear in more also-boughts throughout Amazon’s eco-system and the Zon promotion algos will be kinder to them.

AMAZON PRIME PROMOTION PROGRAMS

This isn’t something you can apply for. You have to get picked. Recently one of my books was picked up for promotion, first in the UK and then America. If you get that invitation email, take the deal. From my research, it’s Amazon giving you a nice boost. Take the win. 

WATTPAD

It’s a platform for readers of a certain age: young but not children. Got a book about teens? You might get exposure there. I experimented with it for a couple of series. However, to make it work, your content has to fit with that demographic and you have to engage there. I abandoned it because, to gain visibility, I would have to be on it constantly. I know an author who got a lot of reads and encouragement there. Her efforts did not result in any sales that she could measure, unfortunately. There are exceptions and Wattpad has a lot of good press. However, those success stories definitely seem to be outliers.

TWITTER

I wouldn’t pay for advertising there. I don’t know anyone who is making that work very well as a book promotion tool. We’re told not to beat Twitter over the head with “Buy my book! Buy my book!” Oddly, the two authors I’ve met who did feel they got some ROI out of Twitter were doing just that. I don’t recommend it simply because of the 80/20 rule. I’d rather invest time and money according to the Pareto Principle.

INSTAGRAM

I don’t have enough data to say much about the ROI on sites like Instagram, Tumblr or Pinterest but I doubt there’s much gold to be mined there at this time for most genres. Approaching people about your books where they don’t expect to encounter your pitch is like trying to walk up the down escalator (with the escalator zooming at high speed.)

MEDIA

Occasionally I see people promoting the idea that all you have to do is get on Good Morning America and you’ll sell books. (I don’t even have a television anymore. Is that still a thing?)  Here’s the counterintuitive truth from someone who used to be in media: it’s difficult to get into big media and it mostly doesn’t move the needle. If you’re selling non-fiction, that’s a different story, but a major network show is out of reach for most of us. You’d make more sales running for president or becoming a guest on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast.

For fiction? Forget it. Oprah made her book club work. She was the only one.

PUBLICISTS

There are a lot of people and a few organized services out there scamming authors by claiming they can move that needle I was talking about. All you have to do is pay them several thousand dollars and they’ll promote you to major media outlets. Don’t do it.

When they say, “Promote you,” in most cases that just means they will send out press kits. I knew several publicists when I worked in trad publishing. Those glorified envelope stuffers had very high opinions of themselves. They often looked down on authors and always looked down on the sales force. The publicists never earned their keep. You’d have more hope getting to know a journalist personally so you’re in their address book, not a stranger pushing an envelope and a book on their desk.

If you feel you can gain traction with traditional media on a wide scale, make press kits yourself. Save those several thousand dollars for your Facebook ad experiments and Bookbub promotions. If you’re going for it, try smaller markets first, like your newspaper. If a journalist calls back, you get in your local paper and you’re a hero for a day. If the newspaper’s advertising department calls back instead of a reporter, tell them you’re dead and hang up.

THERE’S MORE TO SAY BUT…

What about book clubs? What about buttonholing strangers in dark parking lots? What about my pet thing I can’t believe you (a) didn’t include, (b) forgot, (c) got all wrong, or (d) I’m a book publicist and how dare you, you bastard? What about getting my family to write reviews?

One more thing, then: please don’t ask your family to write reviews of your books. They’ll screw up your also-boughts because they aren’t your target demographic. You write about lesbian robots doing battle with centaurs and Aunt Tildy only buys cookbooks about bacon. Worse, they probably won’t write a review even though you’ve given up your dignity and you’ll still have to face them next Thanksgiving. Don’t do it.

This piece is already too long. I’ve got to get to bed and I have a big day of writing  tomorrow. Good luck out there, friends. Oh, and if you are a fan of my work, please do join the Inner Circle here. See you on the inside. 


Cheers!

Chazz

 

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Filed under: publishing

4 Responses

  1. […] via Book promotions: Good, Bad and Fugly […]

  2. acflory says:

    lmao – thanks, you’ve just explained why nothing I do gets results. Ah well, who needs sales anyway? 😀

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