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

Write and publish with love and fury.

Write more, write faster, sell more

Camp NaNoWriMo is on now and it’s not too late to jump in.

It’s only the second week of April’s Nano and I’m powering along, really happy with my story. It’s all very Buffy. I came up with the first draft to The Haunting Lessons in eighteen days during November’s NaNoWriMo so I’ve got a good track record of getting it done, especially when other writers are watching.

With Camp Nano, it’s you and ten other cabin mates cheering each other on. I find the friendly competition encourages me to move forward and write longer. (I’m up to about 16,500 and expect to finish the draft to the third in the Ghosts & Demons Series this month. (You can pre-order the second in the series, The End of the World As I Know It, here.)

I’m using the Pomodoro App again, and loving it.

Writing isn’t a problem for me, but sometimes I’m reluctant to start. Pomodoro gets me going and I often keep going even though the app gives you scheduled breaks. There’s something about a timer clicking down in the background that makes you want to beat the clock. Then I cruise on, powered by Pomodoro Technique inertia. Try it.

Google sheets.

Within Google docs are easy-to-use spreadsheets. I started using them for recording my tax receipts. Turns out, I love them for lots of reasons, like tracking word counts, productivity, weight loss, food choices. Only that which is measured is changed. I talk about that quite a bit on the all new, All That Chazz podcast. Find out more at AllThatChazz.com.

~ More on productivity soon. In the meantime, after a hiatus to reorganize (and for his wife to have a baby), Kit Foster of Kitfosterdesign.com is back and working full throttle to provide excellent ebook cover designs, web banners and paperback covers for authors and publishing houses everywhere. Check out his portfolio at KitFosterDesign.com and make your next book cover work harder to sell more books.

Filed under: writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Top Ten: Sell better. Sell Sideways with Video, Podcasts, Pop-ups and Free.

I’m always mystified by people who use the hard sell. Telemarketers hear me say, “No, thanks.” Then they charge forward anyway, following their sales script:

“Can I ask you one question, Mr. Chute?”
“Is that question designed to verbal judo, Jedi mind trick me into thinking I have to buy your duct cleaning service or else I’m doomed?”
“I…beg your pardon?”
“No means no! No means no!” Click!

You get the idea. 

And so it is with everything, including books.

Sometimes someone snags my attention with a come-hither headline I can’t resist. I click the link and bang! The pop-up comes at me a little too fast. I know nothing about the seller but they want to skip the first date and go straight to marriage and demand an email address. She Who Must Be Obeyed is awesome, but our engagement was thirteen years long. Do I sound like a guy who commits easily?

A fast pop-up is okay if I come to the seller from a blog or if I already sort of know them. I just need a formal introduction to get comfortable. But to come in blindly and have a stranger demand commitment? Slow down and buy me dinner. Seduce me. Talk slow. Tease me and…um…where were we?

Red flags and suggestions:

1. If your pop-up comes in so it obscures your content completely, I feel ambushed. There are times for a sign up or go offer, but for that to work, I think you have to give the potential subscriber something free and good (e.g. a white paper on how to make a million, a free course, killer book extras.) If you’re going for the email address early on, give them something they want.

2. Do install a pop-up on your author site, though. People say they hate pop-ups but they work and if they’re into your flavor, readers do need to be on your email list. Don’t call it a newsletter though. Call it an update or an info hub or a friendly reminder about new deals and opportunities, exclusive to subscribers.

3. Tweets from accounts with no picture but the default egg look shifty. It suggests the tweeter is a bot or clueless and we don’t follow or sign up for anything. We run away.

4. My new buddy, Buddy Gott (see the crazy fun interview below) has a nice take on Twitter. Check out his twitter account here. He tweets jokes and shows his personality. It’s not just links. He’s clearly having fun with his Twitter account so his followers will have fun, too. When I meet a fun writer, I wonder if their books are fun, too. Then I check them out.

5. If you’re going to tweet and it’s not fun, make it useful. Easy to share, useful content is good. But don’t forget to have fun, too. Follow others and promote good content that’s not coming just from you. Curate.

6. Yes, it’s okay to ask for the sale. But say hello first. Don’t push. Establish some kind of relationship. If I know you and you ask for the sale, that’s cool. If that’s the first thing I hear, or all I hear, you’re a clueless bully. Yes, tweet links to your new book, but if “BUY MY BOOK!” is all you’ve got for Facebook and Twitter, you’re headed for the circle of hell reserved for salespeople who believe Glengarry Glen Ross is a training film for humans.


7. Establishing relationships can be difficult, especially when you’re talking to a crowd. It helps to ask about them, not tell them about you. Unless you’ve got a really funny story about waking up drunk and naked in an unfamiliar bathtub, listen more than you talk, take part and respond. Come at me sideways instead of a full frontal assault.

8. You don’t want to be out there building relationships so much that you don’t have time to write your next book. Tweet in spare moments and, once you’ve established you’re not a dick, send those interested to interesting content. 

9. Stop being so afraid and precious that you can’t give something away. For instance, go grab a free thriller from me here. Yes, it’s the first in a fun and fast series about a Cuban hit man who’s quite adorable. There are three books in that series so far. Click the link, get a free ebook and maybe you’ll love your new addiction.

10. People are willing to watch video longer than they’re willing to put up with text. That’s why the TV show Lost still had some viewers at the end. (Lost wasn’t about castaways on a mysterious island. Lost referred to the people in the writing room as the series went on.) 

So, never mind my Lost snark.

Use video as a friendly get to know you. Like this.

BONUS: Based on a True Story

Check out the new episode of the All That Chazz podcast in which I discuss the relationship between bands and their sex toys. I also discuss my latest brush with the law. Have a listen. Have fun. Sell sideways.

Filed under: author platform, book marketing, publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sell More Books Top 10: Variables that build success

We often don’t know for sure which strategies sell more books so we have to fire a lot of bullets into the darkness. Last week, the best advice I heard, repeated from a couple of authors, was about the willingness to experiment.

When it comes to radioactive isotopes, infant juggling and indie publishing, it’s good fun to mess around. Play with the variables to sell more books. What are some of those variables? Here we go:

1. If your cover doesn’t sell the book hard enough, change it.

Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire wasn’t selling the numbers I wanted. I changed the cover.

WYB NEW COVERcover

2. I played with categories for the Hit Man Series.

My funny and luckless assassin is Cuban, so I tried the Hispanic & Latino category. Didn’t work. I switched it back. Each failure is a refinement. It’s not permanent so relax and fire more shots into the dark.

3. I’m experimenting with keywords, too.

Did you know you don’t have to use a single word (i.e. crime, thriller, action, romance) for keywords? You can add up to seven phrases and it can pay to make them less generic. Cater to your niche and, for more on this strategy, listen to Nick Stephenson’s interview on the Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast with host Simon Whistler. It’s called “Quadruple Your Kindle Sales.” That got your attention and turned you into a podcast listener, didn’t it?

Don’t forget to play with changes to your book descriptions, as well. Use keywords where appropriate. Don’t fall into the trap of awkwardly stuffing keywords into the description so it sounds like you’re straining to please search engine robots.

While you’re plugging podcasts into your head, please do listen to my interview on Episode #60 of Rocking Self-publishing. We had a lot of fun talking about how to enjoy marketing your book.

4. I changed the cover for my poetry book, too.

Poetry is hard enough to sell so don’t handicap your efforts with a sad cover like I did. I changed the cover using an image from Pond5 and switching back and forth from two photo editors, Picmonkey and KD Renegade. 

As always, I recommend the awesome cover design work of Kit Foster of KitFosterDesign.com. He wasn’t available this week, so I improvised. It’s an improvement on the original cover (which was my fault, not Kit’s. The original crap cover was my design, too.)

BRAINGASMS FINAL cover

5. My biggest change was long overdue.

My first book was a fun, funny and thoughtful short story collection to read on the toilet. It’s called Self-help for Stoners. Unfortunately, I uploaded my first indie published foray through an intermediary. To make changes to the text cost a lot of money. It needed another edit so I have reclaimed the book from the intermediary. Huzzah!

I did the edit for the second edition. I added bonus material (big tastes of two of my series) so it could act as an introduction to my kind of crazy. Finally, it’s also a sales funnel to my newer books. 

Self Help for Stoners JPEG

I can do more with this book now, like experiment with variables. I can play with the price, keywords and categories. I can change strategies as needed and put it in KDP Select and try countdown deals etc,….

The print version of the second edition will be for sale again soon so I’ll have more to sell for the Christmas season. Most important, with these changes, I’m delivering a better reading experience along with all that awesome hilarity. It’s a relief to be back in the driver’s seat.

6. Speed.

I’ve been thinking a lot about production speed as marketing. I’m changing my production timetable. The third book in the Hit Man Series hits October 1.

HJ COVER FINAL LADY IN RED

The goal is to put out another crime novel thirty days after that. Thirty days later, the plan is to put out a time travel novel. The books are all written and in the editorial pipeline. I’ll also add an omnibus edition of the first three books in the series.

TWEAKED JESUS OMNIBUS COVER WITH CROSS

The goal is to avoid falling off the cliff. All authors experience the cliff. After a month on Amazon, your beautiful baby is old news and sales tend to begin to slide as you disappear from the list of freshly minted books. Publish a new book more often and all your sales may be buoyed…assuming all the other variables are properly in place. For instance, if the story sucks, nothing can save us.

7. Accept failure as part of the play in the gears.

Please keep in mind that you can put all the sales variables in place, but that does not necessarily mean the book will move. It should move more, but there are too many variables we can’t control. Maybe you’re going head to head against a book with tons of mojo and money behind it. Maybe you’re at the top of a genre that is stone cold. Maybe the book just isn’t that good or you’re an unrecognized genius. (So many of us are. I empathize.)

All we can do is write more books and play with the variables that we can control. I should get a blurb for the Self-help for Stoners cover, for instance. That task is on my list. Blurbs help. More reviews help. Maybe more review copies to book bloggers is something to change up. Or do you need to change the book bloggers on the list you already have?

8. Make plans.

This might be a new idea you want to resist because you’re an artiste, dammit! I know, but work to word count or page count goals and editorial deadlines, anyway. I always get more done when I pretend I’m a grown up.

9. in that vein, establish systems.

When you learn the steps to how to do something once (e.g. putting out a podcast or compiling manuscripts in Scrivener), write what you did right. That way, you don’t have to start at zero knowledge each time you repeat the task. Systems are flow charts of mistakes you corrected. It’s a great way to avoid making the same mistakes with your next project. Put it in a binder within reach of your desk. Update it as you go.

Sure, taking the time to put what you’ve learned into binders sounds like drudgery. However, systems actually make you efficient and eliminate the drudgery of reinventing the wheel each time. Tiny course corrections steal far less from our precious writing time. (Tip: Take screenshots of your winning Scrivener process to make it less tedious.)

10. Speaking of finding efficiencies, track results.

That which is not measured cannot be improved. Repeat the variables that seem to work. Dump what doesn’t work, no matter how much you loved those seemingly brilliant ideas. Old ideas that don’t work can weigh us down as we climb the mountain.

BONUS:
Get better with each book.

This will happen organically. It will happen faster if you organize the variables in that binder.

Pretty soon, you won’t be firing bullets in the dark. You’ll see what hit and become a sharpshooter.

 

Filed under: author platform, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Writers: What really happens in book marketing meetings (Plus: What sells books)

Books in the Douglasville, Georgia Borders store.

Image via Wikipedia

It’s interesting to see the profession of book sales rep disappear. I was a journalist first and that’s evaporated. Later I was a book rep and that’s on the way out, too.  Book sales was somewhat romanticized. From the inside of the industry, book marketing isn’t romantic at all. Occasionally I hung out with authors and going to book fairs and sales meeting in nice places was fun. Yes, there were a few cocktail parties. Most of the year, however, you’re hauling so many samples around in your car, the shocks go. You spend a lot of time trying to get to the next appointment on time and worry about finding a good place to park.

I met some really nice booksellers. I also met many awful book retailers. The crux of that problem was that the young booksellers were doing it as a joe job and the older booksellers got into the job for idealistic reasons. No one tells aspiring bookstore owners that, not only are the big chains going to force them out of business, they won’t spend near as much time reading as they planned. Instead, they’ll spend an inordinate amount of time calculating the GST, paying the GST and trying to assist book buyers who aren’t informed book readers. (e.g. “I want to buy a book for my daughter I heard about on the CBC last month. You know. That one…? It’s by that guy? With the thing…? Surely you know that one!”)

So I dealt with the bored and disillusioned. Not exclusively! It’s just that those negative people are the sales experiences I remember best. That miserable bookseller in Owen Sound was an impatient sort who, when I dared to use the word comedy, corrected me and told me the book was “humour.” I’m surprised she was familiar with either facet of the concept. Then there was the condescending one north of Toronto who thought I was stupid since I was still enthusiastic. She beat that out of me quick. “Okay,” I said. “For the remainder of this meeting, I’ll power through the list and act just as pissed off as you appear to be. Happy? Am I smarter now?”

It wasn’t all bad. The owner of the now-defunct Frog Hollow Books in Halifax has a special place in my heart. She was a sweetie, had a great store and she bought a lot of merchandise from me gladly, even in the press of the Christmas rush. I wish that bookstore was still around.

What I find interesting in other people’s reports of marketing meetings is they say sales rep opinions  are valued. I hear of book reps getting input into the list, commenting on the marketing challenges and the dubious appeal of certain covers and so forth. Book reps on some planet get to turn something down and require changes in order to make a book sell. I repped sixteen publishers of various sizes and I can tell you, my input didn’t carry any weight. It wasn’t asked for, either. I was their traveling salesman. If the book didn’t sell, they figured it was my fault.

At a sales conference, the editorial team is selling their enthusiasm for the list they built. In my experience, if we dared to mutter about a lousy cover, we did so among ourselves. Voicing any reservations would be met with derision. We weren’t graphic artists, so maybe the cover proved to be lousy and many booksellers would tell us so as we made our rounds. However, in the context of the sales conference,we were getting flown out to someplace nice for one reason. We were supposed to sit there, take notes, and listen. The graphic artist and the editor got to have opinions on anything creative. Our job was to sell their old ugly dogs with the same conviction as the cute puppies. If we didn’t believe the dogs with mange and pushed-in snouts would sell, obviously we were idiots or traitors to the cause.

It sure didn’t feel like the powerful position some portray. Lots of articles on the publishing process mention the input of the sales team on titles. Not so in my experience. I watched editors and their minions show covers, talk about the books and maybe pass out review copies. True, we’d worry over price points. We’d look at the page count and comment that the heft of the book was light for the expense. (“People buy books by weight,” was a common bit of wisdom. “Green covers don’t sell it’s a golf book,” was the other bit. That was true, I think.) However, the publisher and their editors had already committed their resources to the books by the time we came into the picture. By then, they would understandably be reluctant to make major changes in their plans for two reasons: expense and ego. We weren’t going to change a done deal.

In the hierarchy of the book industry, the editors and publicists put themselves above the salespeople, especially if anyone referred to books as “product.” (Only a few did that.) Sales reps weren’t creative. We just did the grotty part with the filthy lucre that allowed the creativity to continue.

Many editors idolized some authors. Privately though, many put the authors at the bottom of the hierarchy. Yes, writers are the engine of the industry who provide the art to sell and a reason for editor’s existence. Perhaps it’s envy or resentment. Maybe it’s because acquisition editors see themselves as gatekeepers so they feel they made the authors.

In a less complex analysis, everyone’s the star of his or her own movie and authors come and go like background extras.

And some, being arty and human, are a pain in the ass. For instance, I sold Matt Cohen‘s books. For some he was an icon as well as a somewhat famous Canadian author. However, there was a bookseller nearby who didn’t care for his books and refused to stock them. When the publisher took the author out for lunch, naturally they stopped in to see how his books were selling. I soon got a angry memo. “What’s going on?!”

What was going on was not every bookseller is obliged to carry every book and the publisher’s embarrassment wasn’t a factor in the decision. The bookstore owner simply didn’t like Matt Cohen’s books. The proximity of our house to the store didn’t convince the owner. I despised that bookstore owner (a notorious and cadaverous blowhard.) I agreed with his right to stock whatever he pleased, however. Personally, I found Cohen’s books neurotic, but not in a good way.

At first my territory was Toronto (and in the summer, Cottage Country, too.) Later on, I worked for a book distributor so I sold books wholesale across the country as well as in downtown Toronto, Ottawa and all points north and east. I can’t say I ever felt like more than a minion. It wasn’t that the editorial staff was particularly unkind. It was simply that we had no creative input. That’s why I wonder about these reports I’ve read about the publishing process. When in-house editors tell authors, “Marketing didn’t like this or that,” are they really hiding behind the closed doors of those marketing meetings? Is it just a ploy to bring down the author’s expectations from the sky-high hopes, dreams and promises that originated in the editorial department?

Blah, blah, blah. You’re an author. You want to know what sells books. I’ll tell you.

I sold hundreds of books at a time. Some I read, but there wasn’t enough time to read them all. Instead I recited the catalogue copy and gave my impressions for each book’s appeal. If there was any kind of marketing campaign, I’d talk about that. It’s a gift to a book’s potential (and the haggard sales rep reciting the same spiel for the 100th time) to be able to say, “We think this one has a shot at the Giller,” or, “We’re putting a lot of work into getting this one on that particular CBC show you like etc.,…”

What sells books is word of mouth for a book with good writing that tells a compelling story. It takes a lot of incompetence on the publishing team’s part to overcome that. The other thing that sells books is the human connection between the book sold and the person who wrote it. What helped me sell the most books was meeting the author. Booksellers are on the frontlines of retail, far from the cocktail party action. They want to hear a sales rep’s funny story about meeting That Author.

One of the better people on the planet? One the sweetest people you could ever meet? Amy Tan. I sold her books. I sold a ton of her books. Utterly charming and genuine. When I met with booksellers, I didn’t talk much about her book. I sold her to them instead. We push the people we like harder.

When you get invited to a sales conference (if you ever do) or go on a book signing (arrange your own if your publisher won’t), remember to treat the minions well. Be nice. Be fun and memorable. The sales reps will remember you. The booksellers will hand sell you book.

Extra tip:

That’s why it doesn’t matter so much if a lot of people don’t come to your bookstore signing.

The customers may come or not, but the bookstore staff are always there.

Make a good impression and they’ll hand sell your book.

And the next.

And the next.

What really sells your books?

You do, through the force of your creativity, the shimmer of your personality and audience you cultivate.

Filed under: Books, Editors, getting it done, links, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, Rant, Useful writing links, writing tips, , , , , , , , ,

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

Available now!

Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

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.

For my author site and the Chazz network, click the blood spatter below.

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