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

Write and publish with love and fury.

What to talk about with readers

Sometimes you get to talk about a new cover, but there’s plenty more to talk about when we engage with readers.

It’s a common question: What do I say to readers?

If you’re meeting readers in person at a book signing, your engagement is generally as follows: a friendly hello, an inquiry about what they like to read and your elevator pitch tailored to their preferences. Ask their name and autograph it. Collect email addresses for your newsletter. Sell your paperbacks and/or have a QR code so they can buy ebooks on the spot.

If you have multiple books and a following who specifically came to see you (congrats!), they’ll talk to you about the last book of yours they read as they buy the next.

If you’re signing at a bookstore and the turnout is disappointing, don’t worry about it. Your mission isn’t to sell a few paperbacks and grub pocket change. Your job is to make sure the bookstore employees love and remember you. They’re the ones recommending books to their customers every working day, after all. You’re planting seeds in that case, not necessarily harvesting.

I’m not a great fan of in-person book signings. A few of my friends do marathons of signings and schlep to every festival, comics convention, bookstore and cafe. A buddy of mine is so prolific and peripatetic, he’d show up the opening of an envelope. More power to them. I live in Canada. Everything is far away from everything else. I’d rather stay home and talk to readers from the comfort of my writing bunker.

Before and after: Fresh, on-point covers may translate to increased sales. Consult with fans. They can help you choose covers and titles, too.

Which brings us to how most of us engage with readers: electronically.

We all know we should engage readers through newsletters, preferably not through a gmail account (so your news doesn’t go to spam), preferably keeping the list warm by sending out the mass email at some reasonable frequency so you are not forgotten. There are newsletter builders for most genres and autoresponders help convert casual readers into fans. I’m no newsletter ninja and my attitude about newsletter engagement is poor. I worry too much about bothering anyone too often. Unsubscribes from a small list are a bit depressing. However, I know a newsletter ninja who does it right so why listen to me about newsletters? I recommend Newsletter Ninja 1 & 2 by Tammi L. Labrecque.

Here’s how I love to engage with readers: my FB fan group

I list my books and links in the back of my books, of course. I also invite the die-hard fans to join us in my private fan group, Fans of Robert Chazz Chute. You can spend a month or years working on books, creating worlds in isolation. This group is one of the joys of the writing life and makes it less lonely. If not for them, I’d talk to three people on an average day. Four, if I order coffee.

Be honest, be real

These readers are fans who are mostly like-minded. They tend to share my worldview. I’m left of center, as is some of my fiction, I suppose. I know, I know! We’re told that, as authors, we lose readers if we’re political. Ha! That advice is common but it surely is not as universal as you’ve been told. Ever check out Stephen King’s Twitter feed or Chuck Wendig’s?

This topic is a longer discussion and another post. However, everything is political, especially now. Choosing not to speak up is a political choice, too. The market is fractionated. Everybody picks a side and everyone has their outlet. I was a citizen before I was a writer. I act like it and I’m real about my worries for the future. The climate crisis is real. The pandemic threat is real. Fascism, economic and governmental failures are real. Useful positions when you’re writing dramas about the end of the world, right?

Might I lose some readers? Possibly. I’d likely gain more readers than I’d lose. I don’t think I’d lose many readers who would dig my work so, frankly, I can’t worry about that much. To appeal to everyone, I’d have to say nothing. That’s not me and the writing would suffer. My fiction is richer because it’s informed by dark and stark realities of non-fiction. (Plus jokes. I make a lot of jokes.)

The Fan Group Offer

Members are entered into a raffle and, with their consent, lend their names to characters in my fiction. Nobody turns down the offer. It’s kind of a blast to find a character named after you in a book. I write apocalyptic epics and crime thrillers so even though safety is not guaranteed, people take it as a fun bonus of membership.

Pros and Cons

As discussed in last week’s post, there are problems with Facebook’s policies, post visibility and politics. You’re undoubtedly already familiar with those issues. However, talking with readers within the group is very rewarding for me. People do see my posts within the group, they want to see me succeed and the bond is tight. To me, newsletters often feel like missives to the ether. Within the group, I get replies in the comments, often instantaneously. It’s great to hang out with supportive people who get you and what you do. On some level, I think every writer needs that kind of edge. This is a fun way to make a living. It’s not an easy path.

The group is a club, the only kind I think I’d enjoy. This is not for the casual reader who can take me or leave me. Will it expand my readership? Honestly, not as well as a large newsletter list or a big investment in advertising might. The concrete benefits of the group are mostly indirect. It’s a time investment, not a monetary one and I never miss that time.

The experience is chummy. My editor is in the group. I’m more likely to find beta readers who know my catalogue there (and they can catch if I’m repeating myself). They know my genres. I have up and down days and I’m honest about both. Because of this blog and the podcasts I’ve been on, a lot of people in the group are not only readers, but authors, too. It helps to have friends in the know who you can PM occasionally to ask for a book blurb or get the answer to a question.

How often do I post to the fan group?

Pretty much daily. Sometimes I take a day off on Sundays.

Daily?! WTH do you say to them daily, Rob?!

What to say to readers:

Update them about deals, of course. These two gems are set to free today (Nov. 19/19), for instance. http://author.to/RobertChazzChute

There’s plenty to talk about that is not spammy:

  • Share compelling snippets from your WIP.
  • Consult with them about titles and covers.
  • Share your hopes, dreams and frustrations. The writing life is a dream. Sometimes it’s a nightmare. Tell them the truth.
  • Share their successes. These aren’t just fans. I think of every one of them as trusted friends. If a troll wandered in I’d bounce them immediately but no one has let me down yet.
  • Ask their advice. I’ve got mice in my attic. I vented. Suggestions were made.
  • Pictures. I shared holiday pix of my trip to Chicago and growled about the Christmas tree my son put up way too early.
  • Sometimes the post is a music video I like or a book recommendation.
  • I congratulate readers on completing another orbit around the sun. I’m glad for every birthday. Readers are precious. I want them to live.
  • I share blog posts, especially this one since it’s all about the sweet, sappy love.
  • Tell jokes and stories. More than once I’ve shared amusing anecdotes about territorial disputes with other folks at my coffee office. It’s war!
  • We talk a bit about the news but that’s more for the main news feed. I mean, sure, as noted above, I’m politically aware. However, I don’t hit anyone over the head with minute-to-minute coverage of the impeachment hearings. That’s already ubiquitous.
  • Never miss an opportunity to be kind, helpful and grateful.

If this sounds like a diary, you’re not wrong

Don’t just talk like an author, stiff and selling. Talk like a human. Despite who I am, I can provide a reasonable facsimile of human interaction. Maybe not normal human interaction, but they can get that shit anywhere, right? Entertain yourself and you’ll inevitably entertain someone else while you’re at it.

It’s okay to be random. I recently switched to a whole foods, plant-based diet (nutritarian, specifically.) I’m losing weight and feeling great. I’ve shared recipes, cooking successes and failures alike. We’ve laughed about the pumpkin pie that was supposed to be the best in the world. It sure wasn’t. Why should anyone care? They care because it’s honest and relatable. Ironic that the same is true of the lies you tell within the covers of a novel, isn’t it? Honest and relatable lies make compelling stories.

This is not a marketing chore. Have fun with it. I love the writing life and my people allow me to enjoy it every day, not just when I hit publish or read a happy review.

~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute. I write apocalyptic epics and killer crime thrillers. Subscribe to my teeny newsletter at AllThatChazz.com. Apparently, I won’t bother you with it often enough.

Filed under: book marketing, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Selling Books: Strategy Versus Tactics

Today we’re talking long-term versus short-term, investments is your author career versus the expenses along the way. It’s going to be honest and some of it is going to be painful. Strategy versus tactics, here we go:

But first, FYI, I’m running a promotion for the first book in my apocalypse trilogy, This Plague of Days. Pop over to AllThatChazz.com to grab your copy for just 99¢! The sale ends September 2.

I wrote This Plague of Days over several years. Though I’ve written many books since, my greatest earning power is in the backlist, possibly because I wrote TPOD when it was much easier to get reviews. (Separate issue for another time.) Though TPOD is my biggest seller, even successful books need a boost and a refresh. (Google the art of The Stand, for instance. It’s interesting how the cover art changed over the years.) TPOD will be getting a fresh face with new covers in the near future. In the meantime, I got a Bookbub. Let’s talk a little about selling books, short-term and long-term.

On the advice of several trusted author friends, I have moved away from giving books for free as a promotional device. If someone can afford to read on a phone or an e-reader, they can afford 99¢. I’ve heard rumblings that free isn’t as effective as it used to be. Selling at 99¢ is not a profit strategy, either. My first aim is to entertain, delight and absorb readers into my Mindscape until we are all one big ball of braingasms. Before the Well, Actually Guy shows up, yes, we have to write great books. That’s first and foremost. Okay, Well, Actually Guy? Now sit down.

To afford to continue to do my thing, my goal is to gain visibility, traction, and read-throughs for the rest of the TPOD series and the rest of my list. I have to find readers who value my work enough to support the enterprise. That tiny barrier to entry into my worlds (99¢!) might deter free seekers but readers who only buy when art is free have other options. I’d direct those readers to their local library or to the many free books that are offered daily in various promotions elsewhere.

Stacking promotions on various platforms, staggered instead of hitting all on one day, can help a book’s rank and visibility. Here’s what I’m doing to let people know they’ve got a binge read waiting for them for a very low price.

Marketing Tactics

1. The Bookbub hits on September 1 so that’s the biggest deal for me. For a long time, I have ignored Bookbub. I got several Bookbub deals years ago but let it go when it became obvious how hard it is to get a submission accepted. That was wrong of me. It doesn’t take long to submit a book and, though it’s difficult to get in, it’s not outside the realm of possibility so why not at least try? I tried, it worked. I should always have something submitted to Bookbub until such time as they prove a useless expense.

2. Facebook ads running for three days. I’m not a fan of FB ads but, using Bookbrush, I came up with something that looked good. I’m keeping the budget on the FB foray tight because I don’t trust it. I’ve read and listened to the experts on FB ads. They make it sound like it’s a full-time job to get it just right before it goes to shit again. The most successful authors who use FB ads seem to have very deep pockets. We can optimize all our variables to appeal to readers but that doesn’t matter much if we’re outbid every time.

However, big mindset shift: Expensive is bad. Expenses are to be expected. Thinking of expenses in terms of investments is best. Look for the payoff and cut what’s not working.

3. I’m also running a paid Bookbub ad for three days. (That’s different from the featured deal. I’m talking about the ad you bid for that, if successful, appears at the bottom of BB newsletters to curated audiences. BB says that helps to optimize featured deal promotions. We’ll see. I don’t have a great track record of making these sorts of ads work for me but they may be more effective in coordination with the featured deal.

4. This promo came together last minute. If I’d had more time, I would have hoped for an Ereader News Today promo for the day before the Bookbub. It’s set for September 2, instead. Still better than pouring all resources into a one day sale. No one knows Amazon’s algorithms for sure but to achieve higher ranking and stickiness, stacking helps.

5. Many Facebook groups are hostile to author promotion and I respect that. Fortunately, there are relevant Facebook groups that do welcome an author letting them know about a book deal. I’ll do that.

6. I’ve already told my readers on my Facebook fan page. Next stop: my newsletter. I don’t have a big newsletter list. I encourage you to join us at AllThatChazz.com. (The pop-up will soon pop-up when you go there.) I won’t bother you often and only when I have something new to say.

7. I’ve boosted the budget on my AMS ads temporarily. Once again, the goal is visibility and finding more and new readers who will pick up what I’m putting down. Whale readers, superfans, normal fans, casual readers: All are welcome. It’s not about immediate profit. I won’t make immediate profit on a book priced at 99 cents. As soon as this promotion is over, I’ll tally my investment in advertising and weep a little. I will lose money on this tactic in the short-term. It’s a loss leader, as in, I’m leading the way in losses. Yech. However, I’m hoping the readers will come through and pay for more tickets on my Crazy Train. This Plague of Days is one trilogy. I have several other offerings in the same genre: AFTER Life, Robot Planet, and the Dimension War Series.

Note: I also write killer crime thrillers. I don’t expect many crossover readers from the apocalyptic genre. That’s not part of the calculation. If you’re an author who writes in multiple genres, it’s more fun but it’s a tougher go. If I could go back to 2011 and do it all again, I would have probably done the same thing again, anyway. Writing in two genres I love is how my mind works. If your mind doesn’t work that way and you’re just starting out now, I’d recommend either cranking up a pen name to separate and solidify your market brand or simply pick a lane.

Other Caveats

Free may not be as effective as it used to be. Some say Bookbub isn’t as effective as it once was, either. AMS ads are often a quagmire. Some of my experimentations with AMS ads have been somewhat successful and plenty have been low-grade disasters. Worse disaster happen at sea, so let’s not panic. My most successful AMS ad tests have been achieved by concentrating on selling the paperbacks. Higher price point = lower ACos. Yep, some people still love paperbacks, may Thor bless them.

Marketing Strategy

Giving a series fresh covers that are on point and impact sales is a great thing to do as books age. I think too many authors ignore the gold in their backlist. It’s always fun to run off to the coffee shop to write a new book. I had plans for other releases this fall but I got a novel stuck in my head and had to write it immediately. The new shiny thing is always more fun to chase. However, as I write for a living and try to make it all work, it’s not easy juggling business versus art. Sadly, some books fail to launch and trip right out of the gate. Reviews are harder to get. Many would-be guru authors talk about how we have to art harder and be brainful instead of brainless. Few talk about their failures. We all have them. This biz is not for the weak of mind but we’re also going to need big spirits to keep going.

When the going gets tough, make time to go outside, smell the fresh air and chuck rocks at your enemies. Or scream into a pillow.

Then get back to the question: “What am I going to do next? How can I think bigger to do better?”

Thinking Bigger

As I stood in line at the grocery store with my daughter, I complained that book sales were flattening out. The stats about the number of people who read are grim. This is still the best time to be a writer overall but with fewer readers, new tactics aren’t enough. Strategies have to change.

“So what are you going to do?” my daughter asked.

My reflex answer has always been, “Write more books, see what sticks.” I’m proud of my books. They’re packed with wit, action and surprises. I work with a sharp-eyed editor who helps to bring out my best. That should be good enough but it isn’t. It used to be good enough but the market is pay-to -play now. Excellence in one facet is not enough. Writing great books alone won’t keep me going as a full-time writer. (And, at 54, who’s going to hire me for much? I’ve got to make this work!)

To be seen, like every other business, we must invest in advertising, engage with readers where appropriate and spur word of mouth. There are plenty of book marketing strategies and tactics to try. I’m working on a new angle in the run-up to Christmas but that’s just a tactic. It’s not a game changer. I need a new strategy and a far better answer to my daughter’s question.

“So what are you going to do?” my daughter asked.

Audiobooks. Some of you are yawning. This is not new to many authors. It will be new to me. It’s long past time I jumped into audiobook production but there were reasons I didn’t until now. (Good reasons? Debatable, but here we are.)

First, I complained ACX wasn’t available to Canadians. Without ACX, I didn’t see a way for me to enter the audiobook market. (This was before Findaway Voices.) When ACX finally became available in Canada, the costs were too prohibitive for my budget. Then, quite recently, I did some more research and saw my way in. I read articles from authors who took the DIY approach. We don’t need a fancy recording studio worthy of Quincy Jones to create audiobooks. I’m in the midst of turning a basement room into a sound booth and I’m doing it cheaply.

This promotion for This Plague of Days, Season One is a short-term marketing tactic which I hope will gain lifetime readers. Audiobooks production is a long-term strategy that opens up new possibilities. Fewer people are reading but they are listening to books while they’re on the treadmill, commuting or doing the dishes. That’s where the puck is going and that’s where I’ll be.

I’ve produced four podcasts and guested on many more so I was already halfway to adding an audiobook branch to Ex Parte Press. I thought I couldn’t afford the investment or do it right on my own. I had to think different and think bigger.

I had to be a little braver, too.

Please visit my author website, AllThatChazz.com, to pick up your copy of This Plague of Days for only 99¢. The sale ends September 2, 2019. Enjoy! Thanks!

Filed under: audiobooks, publishing, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Further thoughts on the challenges and solutions around free book promotions

1. Problem: Annoyance when free stops

The beta version of my next book, The Haunting Lessons is on Wattpad for free. However, Christmas is here and I’ve got bills to pay and children who expect presents on Christmas morning. Odd, huh? Greedy little creatures.

I can’t leave it on Wattpad for free while I’m selling it elsewhere. Naturally, my first worry is that I’ll annoy Wattpad readers when I pull it on December 15th. I once saw a Wattpad reader characterize a writer’s move from free to paid as “a cash grab.” Ye gods! Alfred! My cape! My cowl! Polish my batarangs! Tonight I hunt Entitlement to its lair!

So, yeah. That’s a problem, but let’s not overstate it. It’s probably a minor quibble. Most people are reasonable. They’ll take an inch, but that doesn’t really mean they’ll take your shirt and your shoes, too.

Solution: Make concessions

I have warned readers on Wattpad that THL won’t be there long (though some will miss that warning.)

When I pull it and publish on Amazon, I could put the book into KDP Select and offer it for free for a couple of my five free days. That’s one way to get more reviews faster. However, that ambition will be hampered because I won’t be able to promote it anywhere (except my network). We can’t promote effectively without a bunch of reviews.

Question: Anybody know of an effective book promotion service that really moves books on the first day without requiring 10-15+ reviews? Anybody want to invent one?

Alternate solution: Expand beta read team.

Also send out more ARCs to avoid this conundrum.

2. Problem: Time

Though The Haunting Lessons is the first book in a series, the next books are not yet written. Many authors find making the first book free in a series attracts the power of discovery, gets true fans and raises sales of the books. Yes, but that’s not helpful until I have at least three books in the Ghosts and Demons Series.

Confession: I’m uncomfortable with perma-free.

Making a book perma-free is an unreliable and unpredictable process. It can be reversed, but that’s also unreliable and unpredictable. It all takes time and, of course, every book is a massive investment of energy. Perma-free does feel like lost sales no matter how much I tell myself it’s an investment in advertising and promotion. (More on those feelings below.)

Solution to the Time Problem: Compose, produce, ship

I’ll write the next books in the series fast and include a CTA (Call to Action) for similar books in my list. People who liked This Plague of Days will have a great time with The Haunting Lessons and vice versa.

This dovetails with a strategy that is long overdue for me: stop being stubborn and write a lot of books in one genre. Expect more horror/urban fantasy from me in 2015 and fewer crime thrillers.

Alternate solution: Invent a time machine. 

Write the entire series ten years ago. Mental note: invest in Google, Facebook and Apple.

3. Problem: Logistics

Coordinating giveaways is a logistical nightmare if you’re on multiple platforms. Change a price on Amazon in the morning and the price change takes effect the same day. On other platforms (and especially if you publish through Smashwords), price drops and rises can take days to weeks and you’re never even sure when the new price will take effect.

Solution: Improvement by the competition

It helps if you publish to those multiple platforms directly instead of going through an intermediator. Uploading individually instead of going through Smashwords or Draft2Digital will also take time, so there’s always a caveat and a corollary. That’s about all we can do, though.

The solution is not in our hands. It’s up to the other sales platforms to match Amazon’s response time. Those platforms also have to work on their problems with discoverability. I tried to find a friend’s book on Barnes & Noble and Kobo the other day. It took two searches. For searchability and discoverability, Apple is probably the worst. They are also the least user-friendly for uploading and publishing.

4. Problem: When free is worth nothing

A lot of people will snap up free but they’re hoarding. They never get around to reading the book. I do that myself.

Though it still kind of sucks, I prefer 99 cents as an introductory price for a series (Season One of This Plague of Days is set at 99 cents.) It’s not about the 30 cents I might get for selling a 100,000-word book. It’s that people are more likely to actually read it if they make that minimal investment. It’s the shopping cart analogy from my previous post: just a quarter is enough to stop a lot of people from walking off with shopping carts.

Solution: Reach the masses

Free is used best when it’s leveraged by the power of promotional platforms like Bookbub. There are many more such services but Bookbub is still the big dog at the moment. You can argue Bookbub is hard to get into and provides less value than it once did, but it does appear to reach more readers than any other service.

Go to AuthorMarketingClub.com to use the free submission tool for multiple ebook marketing sites. They’re great additions to a Bookbub promotion and, failing that, might be an alternative. Most of these sites are free or inexpensive. They require application time and a varying number of reviews and ratings. Author Marketing Club tools reduce application time and can even help you get more reviews.

5. Problem: Perception

Some readers think that if it’s free it must be a bad book.

Solution: Over-deliver

Surprise them with a good book and we may even be rewarded in the reviews for overcoming their low expectations. It’s not their fault they don’t understand the problems of indie authors trying to grow our readership. It’s not their problem that they mistake price for value. It’s our problem.

Additional solution: Ignore Mr. and Mrs. Crankypants.

Recently I read a comment in a review where a vituperative minority cast aspersions on indies for daring to write series. If it was a series, it couldn’t possibly be any good. That was an odd and new prejudice to me. But so what? That’s not a reader who’s going to become anyone’s true fan. That’s a bomb thrower and all they love is the sound of their own voice. Forget it. (And if you figure out how to forget it, tell me how you do that. I’m still a boiling cauldron of rage at any injustice and slight.)

6. Problem: The Devaluation Argument

Literature hurts to produce. Squeezing out a novel is excruciating. Surely, we should never gift our books to anyone, even temporarily, in the dim hope we’ll gain new readers who have never heard of us. We’ll send the message that our work is worthless to Mr. and Mrs. Crankypants.

Solution: Get off the fainting couch and get over yourself, Butch.

This is a neurosis writers commit on themselves before any nasty reviewer gets a chance to sneer at us for being entrepreneurial artists and independent publishers. Sure, writing books is hard, but it’s not that hard. If it is that hard, maybe you aren’t enjoying the writing process enough. (I hear crocheting is calming for the sensitive neo-hippie plus you get garish hangers for your potted ferns when you’re done.)

The Devaluation Argument might not be all wrong. I’ve already confessed my discomfort with perma-free. (Yes, there’s the math of it. Math doesn’t stop me from feeling what I feel.) But to cut off the most effective tool for discovery that I know of? That smacks of Self-aggrandizement calling itself But What About the Pricelessness of Literature? Let’s not be so precious about the writing process that we write good books too few ever get to read.

Writers need to promote to be read. Most sales platforms suck at promoting and advertising our work successfully. Until they improve, this is our lot and the value of discovery and growing our readership is going to cost us. We have to suck it up.

Alternate Solution 1: Reframe the problem

When you give your book away, that’s generous. A lot of people don’t have money for an entertainment budget and you’re helping them out. That feels good doesn’t it?

Alternate Solution 2: Go back to the math despite how you feel

This week I consulted with an author whose ebook was priced at $9.99. I suggested he drop the price.

The author frowned so we went to Amazon’s pricing tool. It’s in beta but it’s interesting and can be useful. I don’t set all my prices by it, but I do pay attention to it. You’ll find it on the Rights and Pricing page of your KDP Select Dashboard.

At $3.99, the tool predicts that his profits will rise by over 400%. How do they do it? Volume. Free promotions create volume and inertia, too. Better than doing nothing, right?

Alternate Solution 3: Know that many people are price sensitive for good reasons

One guy told me recently, “I don’t pay attention to price. If I want a book, I buy it.” 

I nodded. What I didn’t say was, “Yeah, but, dude! You’re rich. You didn’t ask the salesperson what your new car would cost.”

Some of those same price-sensitive people will become true fans, and buyers, once you demonstrate that you and your work are worth their time and investment. Without free, a lot of them won’t give you the chance to prove your writing’s worth. Think long-term.

Give coy readers a chance to fall in love with what you do. And why wouldn’t they? You’re adorable.

~ The Christmas thing is happening. You’ll find all my ebooks and paperbacks here. I’d appreciate it if you bought a book or fifteen. Thanks!

 

 

 

Filed under: author platform, free ebooks, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, readers, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

10 Things I Know About Cons As A Vendor

Book Signing Setup

Guest post by Armand Rosamilia

Cthulhu and MeI’ve been to a few conventions in my time. Over the years I’ve been a vendor, a guest and a Regular Joe who paid to get in with the rest of the commoners.

My favorite conventions are the ones where I can not only be a panelist, but a vendor as well. Earn back a few bucks while chatting with other panelists and audience members and be able to afford a drive-thru fast food lunch on the long ride home after the con.

So, in no particular order… here are 10 Things I Know About Cons As A Vendor

  1. I like a full table.

At conventions I often see authors setting up to sell their two releases, and they spread them across the table. Three feet for one book and the other half of the table for the other, with nothing fancy to get me to stop and look. Heck, a lot of authors/vendors don’t invest in a few bookstands. I have 45 different print releases I can bring to a convention. I usually don’t do it. But I bought two really cool book racks, which hold 16 books to display on each. I stacked them one on top of the other… and Special Gal said it was too high and looked ridiculous. I kinda agreed. I think you need to have a good balance of too much stuff for the potential customer to look at and not enough. I put bookmarks, business cards, stickers for the Authors Supporting Our Troops event, and hide the bags of M&M’s behind the displays. Those are not for the customers.

  1. I know I always bring too many books with me.

For some reason I’m praying four crates of books will magically sell out for me. At Imaginarium I brought 289 copies in total. I sold 10. It was still a lot of books to carry back to the car on Sunday afternoon. But when/if it ever happens… ahh, Sweet Victory! I can throw the empty crates at passersby and go inside a fast food restaurant and not only order off the dollar menu.

  1. I had a banner made.

OK, technically Special Gal had it made, but it has my name on it. I used it at Imaginarium and it got a few looks and responses. It is my Dying Days zombie series (the main books, at least) and I already have plans to do future banners for future conventions. OK, fine… Special Gal is doing it.

  1. Don’t sit behind the table like an idiot.

I have an outgoing personality. I also worked retail for twenty-plus years. I enjoy interacting with someone with money in their pocket and/or hand for some reason. I find myself sitting behind the wall of books and talking to everyone around me. I need to stop doing this. At Imaginarium I rarely sat down. I stood next to the table and talked to potential customers wandering the aisle. I think in an established convention (with aisles filled with customers) I need to do this to actually generate sales.

  1. People rarely carry cash.

Or if they do, they don’t want to part with it. I used to get the old ‘I don’t have any cash on me’ excuse. Now I use a Square for my phone. Actually, Special Gal does. I can’t figure it out. But you can use a credit card and then you have no lame excuse why you won’t buy my brilliance that is the written word.

  1. Be good with names.

I really suck at remembering people’s names in a large crowd. And the convention lanyards hang too damn low on someone, so I’m staring at some dude’s lower abdominal area or a woman’s vajayjay (I’m actually doing the latter and using the badge as an excuse). I have a uniquely sexy look, let’s be honest. But I also post a ton of current pictures on Facebook, so people know what I look like. The worst is meeting a fellow author who knows you and starts chatting like you know their avatar of a cat is really them. But then, when you find out who the hell they are, try to remember it. Especially when you’re taking a picture with them and want to tag them on Facebook.

  1. Make sure you have an idea ahead of time where the good food is being sold.

I hadn’t had White Castle in a dozen years before Imaginarium. It was a priority to find one, and we did. A couple of miles from the hotel. Pure heaven. There is nothing worse than going to a strange city and not being able to find good food, or have to rely on the hotel bar/restaurant for all your eating needs. Google that bitch, yo. And don’t judge me for eating White Castle.

  1. Find out what vendors are around you.

There’s nothing worse than being around someone playing music or someone who is so damn boring you’re afraid you’ll fall asleep. Or some idiot who claims you owe them money or wants to tell you stories about the Golden Age of publishing and then show you pictures of their cats. I am not an animal person. I also don’t owe you any money. The cool vendors around you will be fun to hang out with and talk to. They will also try to take your M&M’s, so please be careful.

  1. You’ll meet cool people you knew from MySpace.

I met a couple of fellow authors I’d known online for many, many years. It was cool to finally meet them and cool to see they (like me) were still doing their thing. Too often, writers come and go like the breeze. I’m not sure what that analogy means, so we’ll move on. It is fun to finally sit down and talk to them and realize they aren’t as odd as you thought they were online. They are even weirder.

  1. Be yourself.

No one likes a douche bag. Seriously. No matter how big and important you are, remember one thing: you’re not. I know I come off like a pompous jerk at times (and a sexy humble bastard as well), but I also have fun with all of this. I wake every day and thank my luck I get to write for a living. I used to have this other persona which I thought would make me cool and people would love me. It didn’t work. So now I’m just myself. And it works. Be genuine. Talk to customers and other authors. Have fun at conventions. Sell some books. Network. And stay away from my M&M’s.

~ Armand Rosamilia is the author of Dying Days and too many other books to name. Check out everything Armand at http://armandrosamilia.com

 

 

Filed under: Guest blog post, , , , , , , ,

Top Ten: Renew your readers’ interest between books

As I finish revisions to the finale of This Plague of Days, I’m entering that crazy time between the writing and the publishing. We all go through it. There’s still editing and proofreading to do and you aren’t done until you’re sick of it and not even then. But I am excited!

Today, I had my first back and forth with Kit Foster, my graphic designer. We talked cover designs. Out of context, my description of what I had in mind was pretty dumb or nigh-impossible, but through the magic of his art, Kit will transform that raw material into something awesome that makes browsers into buyers.

But how do you keep the sales going between books?

Sales always drop off. They call Day 30 after your book launch “The Cliff” because you lose attention from readers as you disappear from the bright, shiny new thing list. Interest can be buoyed and sustained, however. You don’t have to try all the strategies from this list (or any), but I do suggest you try at least one. Experiment and let me know what works for you.

Here are some ideas to extend your influence with all your books.

1. Write more than one book because your next book helps promote the last one. At a book event, authors talk about the next book, but readers talk about the last book.

2. Write more books. The bigger the stable, the more horses you have in the race, cross-promoting each other.

3. Write (slightly) shorter books. Sadly, my next tome (after TPOD) will (again!) be more than 100,000 words. I’m writing huge books. Many will see this as over-delivering and they’ll love it. It can also intimidate those less invested. The main problem is it makes you appear less prolific even if you’re very productive. It’s #2’s horse and stable issue.

I’m not saying you should shortchange anyone, but keep it reasonable. Few reviewers complain about a quick read. If you’ve got that much to say in a single book and you can’t make it shorter, make it a series.

The complete series for This Plague of Days will be over 300,000 words. The first draft took ten months and then I doubled its size in another eight months. Down the line, I’ll put out more books by keeping them down around 60,000 – 70,000 words.

My crime novels took 3 months each, for instance, from concept to completion. That length is what I’ll be aiming for in the future. Feeling more productive and hitting more milestones also feeds my excitement between books and keeps energy high. Less time between books also gives readers less time to forget about you.

4. Write in one genre. If you can dominate one list, you’ll be more effective in focussed marketing efforts and provide consistent branding. (I should have done this, but it’s not how my mind works.)

5. Collaborate. Writing with another author can expand your influence to each other’s audience and, if you work it correctly with the right person, you’ll get more done faster. Some people think writing with a partner is more work for half the money, but actually you have more people helping with the load, increasing productivity. The guys at Self-Publishing Podcast have proved it over and over, so there you go.

6. Cooperate. Soon, a new horror anthology will be released and I’m in it. My bit will be a sampler of Episode 1 of This Plague of Days. In joining forces with other authors, we’ll co-promote and raise each other up.

7. Have more to give away. I serialized the first two seasons of This Plague of Days. In the run up to the launch of Season 3 and the stand alone (This Plague of Days, The Complete Series), I’m using KDP Select to give away episodes as samples. Those giveaways always bump up my sales in between books when I would otherwise be in the doldrums. I’m a big believer in pulse sales to help new readers find me.

8. Diversify. To sell more between books, have more to sell in different media. There’s interest in turning This Plague of Days into a TV series. (It helps that I wrote the story like an HBO or Netflix dramatic series in the first place.) However, I’d love to see it as a graphic novel, too. I want to sell it as an audiobook. Each iteration feeds the potential for another opportunity.

9. Repackage. Converting This Plague of Days from serialized episodes into seasons, and then into one, big book that stands alone? That’s one example of repackaging. It’ll also give a new crew of readers what they wanted since quite a few people seem to misunderstand the cliffhangers and twists of a serial or they hate serials on principle. (I don’t know what that principle is, but I recognize it and I’m listening.)

Taking different books and selling them as one bundle is another way to go. (I’ll be doing this with the Hit Man Series by turning three books into a bundled trilogy with a new and better name for the whole.)

10. Stay in touch with readers between books. I don’t have a large mailing list, but I do connect with a lot of readers on Facebook and through podcasts. I also have a blog dedicated to This Plague of Days.

Recently, when I needed to add more beta readers to my team, I went to Facebook first because I knew I’d find people who are already into what I’m doing. I’ve got three new, enthusiastic volunteers now.

Staying in touch with readers keeps projects alive for authors, too. When I get another tweet or email asking when the next book is coming out, it helps drive me to get to the keyboard as fast as I can to oil the roller coaster. I know my readers and I can’t wait to make them scream.

Filed under: author platform, book marketing, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How I sold This Plague of Days, PART II

This Plague of Days Season 2

If I had to nail down what strategies worked to sell This Plague of Days, here are the elements that had to come together:

1. Good story. A selective mute on the autistic spectrum versus the Sutr plagues + a CDC virologist’s band of refugees on the run as Europe falls to the infected = Cool.

2. Kit Foster’s great covers. You can have a great story, but without KitFosterDesign.com, who would have bothered to have a look in the first place?

3. Serialization. See yesterday’s post for oh-so-many details on how and why that worked.

4. Bookbub. I got a flood of great reviews from the giveaway. Season One was a bestseller in September because of the free Bookbub giveaway. Season Two became a bestseller two weeks later in October.

5. Amazon exclusivity. This Plague of Days couldn’t have been free for the duration of the Bookbub giveaway if I wasn’t enrolled in the KDP Select program exclusively. (Note that while it is possible to price match down to free on Amazon, it’s not dependable or predictable if or when you’ll get the price down or back up when you want it. Price matching to get to free is not practical for pulse giveaways.)

The Ins and Outs of Bookbub

Bookbub wasn’t very expensive in the horror and science fiction categories, though I believe those fees went up since my promotion. (Click here to see Bookbub fees and stats on ROI.) If I wrote romance, I couldn’t afford their advertising program. I’ve heard some complaints about Bookbub lately, mostly about the fees for service. However, author and Cool People Podcast guest Renee Pawlish also raised questions about its reach on her blog. (Click this link to read Renee’s analysis and be sure to read the comments for a lively discussion and more factors to consider).

It will be interesting to see how prices for advertising change in a more competitive market. I advocated for Bookbub early on. However, while strategies may be long-term, tools are not. As more services like it arise, Bookbub won’t be the only free ebook promotion service on authors’ minds. In fact, many of you may already be using The Fussy Librarian or opting for the multitude of promotional services listed at Author Marketing Club. If you want more options, I suggest you support those services. For instance, The Fussy Librarian’s influence is growing and the operator has pledged to keep fees from authors low.

We don’t have to hit home runs with big services if we percolate into readers’ consciousness by hitting a lot of singles, doubles and triples. (There goes the only baseball analogy I understand.) Book bloggers and smaller, up and coming book promotion companies may be viable options or become more so. Author Marketing Club makes it easy to hit a bunch at once. 

Some book promotion services aren’t very strong, but it’s a new year and our infrastructure is deepening. Other book promotion services that have been around for a while are harder to get into.

If you get onto Pixel of Ink’s offerings, that’s a tribute to luck, your blurb and your cover art. Some services ask for so many reviews before allowing inclusion, the Law of Diminishing Returns kicks in. For instance, it gets to a point where the author thinks, I needed the service more when I had fewer reviews! If a book promotion service demands fifteen to twenty rave reviews to qualify for inclusion, they better deliver sales at a reasonable rate (whatever “reasonable” is will vary by author.) 

The Ups and Downs of Amazon

Over a year ago, several gurus said the advantage of being exclusive with KDP Select was gone. In the last few months, I’ve read several successful writers again report that they’re moving books on other platforms and anyone who doesn’t broaden their reader base with more platforms is an idiot.

I guess I’m an idiot, but I’m a happier idiot than I’d be if I’d diversified as many have advised. I did experiment quite a bit with those other platforms and ended up pulling several books back after good trial runs. They did nothing for me. My books sell on Amazon and, as long as that continues, I’ll stick with it.

In my experience, the other platforms are far behind the Mighty Zon and can’t seem to come up with ways to get my books moving there. Vague terms like “establishing a presence” on other platforms and worries about putting my eggs all in one basket won’t dissuade me as long as I still see returns on my work that the other platforms can’t seem to touch. KDP exclusivity is not as lucrative as it once was, but you don’t torch the car because it’s not as good as when you rolled it off the lot. If I want to escape KDP exclusivity, the worst case scenario is I’m free of the agreement within 90 days.

I’ve talked to writers for whom diversification is working. If that’s you, carry on happily. See my screenshot of my latest news from Smashwords?Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 7.16.53 PM

No, it’s not time for me to diversify yet. When it is time, that jump can be made in pretty short order.

If Kobo were to offer to pluck me out of the rough and promote me, it would be a different story. If Apple weren’t so difficult to deal with, I might go for it. I’m not banning my books from other platforms forever, but I won’t abandon the exclusivity at KDP as long as it’s still working. It’s important to understand that other platforms work differently from Amazon. Other platforms choose what they’ll push at customers much as brick and mortar bookstores do. With Amazon’s algorithms and search engine, the customer’s choices determines what is marketed to them. The readers are the gatekeepers there.

This allegiance to Amazon is not an ideological stand. It’s accounting. The other platform paid me pennies. Amazon still pays me dollars. As soon as I’ve determined I’ve squeezed as much as I can out of Amazon promotional opportunities, I’ll give Kobo et al another try. I hope the other platforms will have stolen the best ideas from other players by then. At the very least, everyone should take something from what Smashwords does best: give us promo codes so we can better publicize out work. Amazon is the industry leader. I’m surprised the other platforms don’t experiment with emulation more.

~ As stated in yesterday’s long treatise, one author’s poison is another author’s chocolate latte birthday cake. Amazon’s still cake for me. 

Next post: What didn’t work for me in promoting This Plague of Days.

Filed under: author platform, book marketing, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, self-publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

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An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

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