Tag Archives: marketing

Data Privacy and Readers

You may have heard that the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) goes into effect in the EU on May 25th. You may wonder if this affects you in any way. I hope, as Seth Godin does, that this will mean that you can be more confident that you know what you’re signing up for when you share your email with a company online, and where that data will wind up. This is one reason I’ve changed the wording slightly on my  “Free Stories” page. I want it to be absolutely clear when visitors sign up for my newsletter that getting free stories is just one of the benefits.

Here’s what I want you to know. (Please keep in mind that I AM NOT AN ATTORNEY AND THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE.)  You have the right to understand that when you share your email with me  you are agreeing to receive newsletters from me. (BTW, when you sign up for a raffle for free books, you’re agreeing that your email will be sent to those authors providing the prizes. Some of my newsletter subscribers have joined my list this way.)

I want you to be thrilled (or at least happy) to receive an email from me, so if you don’t want me to send you information about sales and new books please don’t send me your email. If you’ve already subscribed to my newsletter and you want me to stop sending them, please unsubscribe. I always put the unsubscribe information prominently at the top of every newsletter. Also, I do my best to prevent any unauthorized access to or use of your data and I’ll never share or sell your email address.

I’m in the process of preparing a Privacy Policy that spells this out in more formal terms, and that will be available shortly.

All that being said, if you haven’t signed up for my newsletter yet, please do so. Two of the many benefits are access to two free short stories and early bird news about new releases. Please also consider following me on Amazon and Bookbub.

 

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My Self Publishing Journey: Potholes Ahead

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image8529767One of the risks of working with vendors who are the sole proprietors of their businesses is that when they have Life Events, those bumps in the road affect me, too. The editor who was working on BLAZING A TRAIL: YOUR SELF PUBLISHING JOURNEY had such a Life Event, and that delayed her work (quite justifiably) on my book, putting me about a week behind schedule.

It was a blessing in disguise. Just as I was finishing the recommended edits, I learned from Ed Robertson’s post  that Amazon has contacted its affiliates and made some adjustments to the agreement with them, effective March 1st. The delay gave me the opportunity to revise the chapter on being exclusive to Amazon to reflect the potential consequences of this action. Amazon told its affiliates:

“In addition, notwithstanding the advertising fee rates described on this page or anything to the contrary contained in this Operating Agreement, if we determine you are primarily promoting free Kindle eBooks (i.e., eBooks for which the customer purchase price is $0.00), YOU WILL NOT BE ELIGIBLE TO EARN ANY ADVERTISING FEES DURING ANY MONTH IN WHICH YOU MEET THE FOLLOWING CONDITIONS:

(a) 20,000 or more free Kindle eBooks are ordered and downloaded during Sessions attributed to your Special Links; and
(b) At least 80% of all Kindle eBooks ordered and downloaded during Sessions attributed to your Special Links are free Kindle eBooks.”

These changes will probably cause the sites that Kindle Select members use to announce their free promotions to drastically reduce the number of free books they feature. Bargain book sites will have to filter the submissions somehow, probably by ramping up the filters they already use, like the number of reader reviews a book has,the star rating, and early submission (1st come, first listed).  The most popular sites, such as Ereader News Today, have already been doing so.

This doesn’t mean that Kindle Select is completely gutted. Even if your book isn’t listed on one of the big sites, a free promotion will still result in more exposure, just a lot less. Your book’s post promo bump in sales will be much smaller, probably, and the reader reviews it gains will be fewer. With the utility of Kindle Select compromised, fewer authors will be interested in being exclusive to Amazon.

I’m speculating, but I think the net effect of this will be the resurrection of 99 cents as a promotional price. If a bargain site can’t get paid as an affiliate for promoting free books, then it will promote cheap books. And readers who had begun to shun .99 as a sign of inferior quality will start to see it as a deal again. The problem for Amazon is, if it want’s to keep Kindle Select alive, is that authors don’t need to be exclusive to Amazon to price their  books at .99.

Of course, this may not be a problem for Amazon. If a book is sold for .99, Amazon gets 64 cents. If a book is downloaded for free, Amazon gets nothing, and if the free book was found through an affiliate link, it had to pay for the privilege, too.

So, if you’ve been relying the free promotions Kindle Select made so easy to promote your books, keep your eyes on the road ahead. You may want to take a different route.

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Welcome to THIS IS TRUE Readers!

Welcome new readers!

As part of my Christmas present, my husband bought an ad in the THIS IS TRUE newsletter edited by Randy Cassingham.  For those who don’t know, THIS IS TRUE is a collection of stories demonstrating the quirks, foibles, and missteps of humanity. Brian has subscribed for a number of years, and he’s convinced that the highly intelligent subscribers of THIS IS TRUE will enjoy my flavor of romantic fiction. 🙂

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image8529767I’m currently putting together a non-fiction book about the decisions an author faces in self-publishing and what can be expected in the first year. (This is a companion book to “Before You Indie Publish” a class I’m teaching for WriterUniv.com in March.) In addition to my observations,  BLAZING A TRAIL: YOUR SELF PUBLISHING JOURNEY will include several interviews with other indie authors. One of the questions they answer is what has proven to be most and least effective in getting the word out about their books. One author specifically said that advertising had been the least effective of her efforts. I’m looking forward to seeing how well paid advertising works for me. This series of ads (they’ll appear in three issues) will only provide limited data, but it’s still valuable information.

In the meantime, welcome to my blog! I hope you enjoy what you’ve found here. Please leave a comment to let me know you visited. And if you’ve ever used paid advertising, I’d love to hear about your experience.

Happy New Year!

 

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My Self-Publishing Journey: Promo Products

As an author, I’d love to have my publisher promote my books for me, so I can just write my next bestseller. And as a publisher, I want to do what I can to sell more books. Since I wear both hats, I can’t have it both ways. I have to figure out what actually works, so I don’t waste time or money.

One of the things authors do to promote their work is to give away promotional items at conferences or as prizes for contests they hold on their blogs, Facebook, or Goodreads. These items (bookmarks, key chains, sewing kits, candy, post cards, mugs, etc.) are labeled with the author’s website or book title and given to readers in the hope that the items will inspire the reader to buy the author’s books. The idea is that by repeated exposure the reader will be more likely to remember the author’s name or her book. It’s an appealing idea, because we all like to get free stuff, and we all want to do something to improve our sales. Giant  pharmaceutical companies do this all the time with doctors, so it must work, right?

Big Pharma aside, I can only tell you what works on me as a a reader. I take home only about 10% of the bookmarks I get at conferences. I keep the emery boards and sewing kits, but I’ve never purchased a book because of them–though I did check out the author’s website. I sometimes read the free books I’ve gotten, and once I became a fan of that author’s work and read everything else she’s written.

Giving away books is an expensive proposition, and is usually the province of traditional publishers. Smaller trinkets are within the reach of the indie publisher, but they’re still not worth spending money on if giving them away doesn’t produce an increase in sales greater than the cost of the items. That’s hard to measure, some would say, because the sales might occur weeks or months down the road. Most people however, act sooner rather than later, closer in time to their initial exposure to the stimulus. (That’s why you get a new catalog from the same store every week in the two months before Christmas. They want their stuff in front of you when you decide to buy.) There may be a few people who keep a bookmark because it’s pretty and several months later finally get around to checking out the author’s website, but those will be a very small number of consumers and not statistically significant. If a promo item has an effect, you’ll see it within a few weeks at most.

I have given away postcards of my book covers at conferences, and put them on freebie tables at conventions. I didn’t see any improvement in sales from this.

Alternatively, I’ve had mugs made with the same “Romance, Mystery, and Magic” lightning logo that’s on my website and business cards, filled them with chocolate, and given them away as door prizes when I speak. In this case, I’m not trying to directly influence sales, I’m trying to create a positive association with my brand. (Who doesn’t like chocolate? :-)) Giving something away gets the attention of the entire audience even if only two people get a prize. That’s the idea, anyway. I’m not sure it’s a cost effective way to advertise, but it’s not too expensive and it’s fun to make people happy.

So how do you keep your name in front of readers without breaking the bank, especially if readers indicate that social media isn’t the answer, either?  I wish I knew the answer to that, but I don’t. I’ve heard good things from other authors about using a mailing list to announce new releases, but I haven’t tried it yet myself.

The take away from this is that you should think long and hard about whether the money you spend on promotional items is going to result in improved sales. If not, you may want to spend your time and money where it will do the most good: on professional editing and covers.

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My Self-Publishing Journey: 2012, Part Deux

I was recently discussing the need authors have for Business and Marketing plans with a few other writers. We all agreed that having them is a good idea. It’s like carrying a map with you on a cross country trip. You may not always follow the planned itinerary, sometimes you decide to take a side road, and sometimes there’s an unexpected detour, but having a map (or a business plan) helps to keep you from going in circles.

Most writers don’t have rigid or formal plans. And given the new information that seems to come out daily about what does and doesn’t work to build sales, that’s probably a good thing. Based on recent information, but mostly on my own observations, I’ve made some changes to my plan.

Back in January I told you about my plan for the year. Here’s how I’ve implemented my plan, and how I’ve changed it.

  • I brought out DANGEROUS TALENTS in April. I completed the first draft and first revision of FIRSTBORN which is now titled BETRAYED BY TRUST, a book set in the Celestial Affairs universe in 1979. I won’t be releasing BBT until next year, though. Instead, I’m bringing out the sequel to DT, FORBIDDEN TALENTS, in October. I’m also working on a non-fiction book derived from this blog. That will be released next spring. I also hope to release GUARDIAN, the sequel to LIGHTBRINGER, next fall.
  • Social Media: I’ve recently seen data that casts doubt on the effectiveness of using such sites as Facebook,Twitter, and Goodreads to promote sales.  On the other hand, there’s anecdotal evidence that suggests it does help. In the meantime, my use of such sites remains minimal. I will continue to blog, however, because I enjoy it.
  • I haven’t followed through very well on submitting my books for review. I plan to do more of that.
  • I have done the personal appearances and speaking events I planned to do.
  • I haven’t sent out postcards to conferences or conventions. I no longer believe that to be a cost effective means of advertising, except as inserts in books in the same series.
  • I’m making use of Kindle Select’s free promotions to increase awareness of my book and improve sales. So far, that seems to be the single most effective tactic I’ve used. The 80/20 Rule dictates that I should do that and forget the rest. I’m not sure I’m ready to do that, however.
  • I will gradually move books to other distribution platforms.

That’s the essence of my business plan for what’s left of 2012 and early 2013. I’ll let you know if anything changes.

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A Recurring Theme: The Best Use of Time

I read a guest post on J.A. Konrath’s blog yesterday by Stephen Leather. He’s a successful traditionally published and self-published author in the U.K.  This last year his self-pubbed books really took off. So much so that his traditional publisher is making changes to take advantage of his increased popularity. Self-publishing has worked for him, but he’s decided to step back from it. He doesn’t enjoy the extra work that takes him away from what he feels he does best, and what he enjoys: writing.

In addition, he believes that we’ve reached the limit of what he calls the self-publishing “bubble.” That’s why he’s publishing his next books with Amazon. Not quite traditional, but not self-publishing either. (Joe Konrath, of course, disagrees about the bubble. He believes there are ebbs and flows to a self-published books, sales and that generally speaking, a downturn will be followed by an up-tick.)

Leather has made a decision about how to best use his time. His self-publishing success has given him more options, and he’s made a choice to go where someone else will take on the bulk of marketing chores.

I’d like someone else to do the marketing chores too. (I keep trying to talk my husband into taking them on, but so far he’s resisting.) Traditional publishers do some of this for you. They get the average book into a bookstore where it can be seen by the readers (those who still go to bookstores instead of buying online) and they may send out review copies too. They don’t let the author off the hook entirely, though. Many publishers’ marketing departments require the author to do social media marketing as part of the overall plan. Traditional publishing does not mean all you have to do is write the next book.

If you can even sell your book to one.

So that means that no matter which path you choose, you’ll still have to allocate some of your time for promoting your work, with no guarantee that it will actually result in sales. While it makes sense that the more often your name and the titles of your books are seen by readers the more likely it is you’ll make sales, there is little hard data to support any particular effort as being more effective than another. Almost all the info out there is anecdotal. (Including what you read here.) Things are changing so fast that all we can do is read widely and go with our gut. And be patient. (Not my forte.) It can take time to build a following. And while you’re being patient waiting for that following to develop, you’ll get only hints about whether what you’re doing is effective.

Despite that uncertainty, I’d still rather work to build my sales than wait six months for an editor to get back to me on a submission.  With that goal in mind, I’m soliciting reviews for LIGHTBRINGER, and entering it into contests. (If you have an established review blog and would like to review LIGHTBRINGER, please contact me. Likewise if you know of contests for indie-published books.)

Please share how you are promoting your books, and how it has worked for you.

 

 

 

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My Self-Publishing Journey: The Book is Out. Now What?

My first book from Castle Rock Publishing, LIGHTBRINGER, is out now in digital formats and in print. I’m pretty happy with the results, but having the book available isn’t the end of the self-publishing journey. Like many traditionally published authors, and all indie authors, my next job is helping readers find my book.

One of the arguments against self-publishing that comes up again and again is How will your work stand out amidst all the crap?  Joe Konrath has addressed this. So has Mike Stackpole and Dean Wesley Smith. All of them feel it’s not a new issue. Books have always had to compete for the readers’ attention. Some of them were good, and some less so, but despite the thousands of books in stores and libraries, readers still found books they wanted to read.

The difference now is that in an online environment, it’s a little harder for a new book to catch a reader’s wandering eye. Amazon and Barnes & Noble have their secret formulas for making recommendations, but we can’t count on benefiting from them. So what should a new writer who has no following do?

Konrath, Smith, and Stackpole all recommend that producing good work is an author’s best bet for success. Good work will generate good word of mouth, and word of mouth leads to sales.

That’s great advice. But how do we get those first people to start talking?

I’ve done what I can to produce a professional product that people will want to recommend to their friends: I started with a good story, got professional editing, professional cover art, professional formatting. Here’s what I’m doing to let people know that it’s out there, so they can find it and talk about it.

  • I’m blogging regularly. (Thanks for reading!)
  • I make occasional public appearances. I speak at my local RWA chapter and at conventions.
  • I’m soliciting reviews from blog sites and from readers. (Possibly the most effective thing I’m trying.)
  • I’m giving (some) books away. I think it’s great when people say they passed the book around. This is like preparing the ground for the next crop.
  • I’m writing the next book. Without a new release, what will my new fans buy next?

What I’m not doing is spending a lot of money on advertising. As a new business I have to spend my time and money where it will do the most good, and I don’t think paid advertising is cost effective at this stage.

I’m also not planning to do any of the price manipulations that other authors have done to boost ranking, at least not now. I am considering putting up some short stories as enticements for readers to take a chance on my work. I’ll keep you updated on that.

It takes time to build a brand. It takes time to build a new business. Some authors do well right out of the gate and others take months to build their sales.  I’m impatient, and I struggle to remember that it’s way too early to evaluate my progress. I need to collect a lot more data before I can decide if I need to make a course correction.

So my advice? Try to be patient, get reviews, and keep writing. When your fans are clamoring for your next book you’ll be glad you did.

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Back From World Fantasy Con

I’m back from World Fantasy Con in San Diego. For those unfamiliar with this convention, its tone is more of a professional conference, though fans may attend. The attendance is limited to 850, but with exceptions made here and there the membership is usually about 1000. It features the usual programming: panels, dealers’ room, art show, mass autographing, only it’s ramped up several notches. Some of the panels are light in tone, such as the one I was on, “But Can You Bring Him Home to Mother?” about the problems of having a paranormal boyfriend, and others like “The Lands of Islam” are worthy of being in a college curriculum.

I’ve been to WFC before as a fan. This was my first experience attending as an author, and I have to say, it was pretty cool. By virtue of the fact that I was on the program and have two books out, people seemed to believe I knew what I was talking about. 🙂

Another wonderful feature of going to WFC is that it gave me the opportunity to meet old friends and learn from them. Gini KochMike Stackpole, and Bob Vardeman among others took me under their respective wings, gave me valuable advice about self-publishing and marketing, and introduced me to their friends and agents and editors. It was a hugely valuable networking experience.

Self-publishing and digital publishing  were a hot topic, and I overheard conversations both E-vangelizing and decrying self-publishing as the road to perdition.

Not surprisingly, the cover for VEILED MIRROR proved to be better liked than the cover for LIGHTBRINGER. This was a fantasy convention after all, and a half naked man was too romance oriented for most (though not all) of those who offered an opinion.

Speaking of covers, I’m starting to plan my covers for The Vinlanders’ Saga, a duology of romantic fantasies. According to my critique partners, they’re a 50/50 blend of fantasy and romance. While I see romance readers as my primary market, I’d like fantasy fans to be comfortable picking one up, or out of an online listing. I’d love to hear from you about what a covers for these books should look like. You can read descriptions of DANGEROUS TALENTS and FORBIDDEN TALENTS  at Castle Rock Publishing.

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My Self-Publishing Journey: Climbing the Learning Curve

A box full of my first book, VEILED MIRROR, was waiting for me when we recently got back from the mountains. (I mention this here because even though VM wasn’t self-published, that sale helped give me the self-confidence to make the leap. It also provided a step along the learning curve of understanding the process of publishing.)

My husband is a great supporter, and he insisted on bringing a copy of VM to a meeting of the organizing committee of TusCon Science Fiction Convention to show off.  We’ve been involved with this group for many years, but I didn’t want to push the book in their faces. Brian wasn’t so reserved. He passed it around before lunch, and I got lots of positive feedback. I also got questions about self-publishing. Is it hard? Does it cost a lot?

I found myself tongue-tied.  Over the last two years I’ve been soaking up information like a sponge. There are so many aspects of the business to learn about, and I’m still learning (more on that in a moment).  When asked how to self-publish and you have thirty seconds to answer, what do you say to the person who is starting from zero? While sometimes I still feel like I’m floundering, I realized at that moment — when a dozen thoughts crowded my head and I didn’t know what to say first — that I’ve learned a lot.

Now that I’ve had time to think about it, I realize that when someone asks about self-publishing, I’ll have to figure out what the person is really asking.  Often the person doesn’t really know. Other times they may be wanting to tell you about their book, which they may or may not have written yet. They may want you to reassure them that self-publishing isn’t a career-ender, or they may want you to hold their hand through the process.

Time management isn’t my strongest skill, so I don’t have enough time to shepherd folks through the process step-by-step — but I do want to give others a hand up as others have helped me. So I think I may create a handout that will have half a dozen references to books and blogs on it to give the curious a starting place.  I figure those who are serious will take the time to educate themselves, and by having a handout, I won’t be tempted to dump an avalanche of information on the unwary. 🙂

I’m curious, how do other self-published authors handle these questions?

As I said, I’m still learning. With the business in a state of constant flux and redevelopment, we all are. Here’s a tidbit I just learned and have to share with you. Whether you like his work or not, Dean Wesley Smith understands the business of writing, as does his wife Kristine Kathryn Rusch. They’ve come up with an idea I can’t wait to try with LIGHTBRINGER.  I liked the idea when Dean wrote about it a couple of months ago, and now he and Kris have done a test run at World Con in Reno.  The idea is selling digital books as book cards (like the gift cards you see everywhere), or using them as promotion. Dean explains it much better than I can, so read his blog post about it, and read his comments after, too.  With paper book sales in decline, and electronic book sales growing by leaps and bounds, this seems like an outstanding way to bridge the transition.

I’ll be interested in hearing what you have to say about this idea.

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