Tag Archives: self-promotion

Odds and Ends

In a post a few weeks ago I asked the question of whether doing public appearances helped sales. Based on a very limited sample size (one) I can address that question (sort of). The answer is a qualified yes. I spoke on a panel last Saturday with three other authors at a local library. Thanks to Amazon’s relatively new ranking info which is reported on its Author Central site, I can report that my novels enjoyed a very small bump in sales.

For a new author like myself (and I do still consider myself a new author, even though I’ve been writing for years and have four novels out) even a small bump in sales is worth celebrating. So yes, speaking locally was worth the time and effort. People who had never heard of me now know about my books. So even those who didn’t buy a book last Saturday, may recognize my name the next time they hear it. And all it cost me was a little time and minimal gas money.

I’ll still be cautious about traveling out of town for conferences, though. The benefits there are more intangible, and the costs are higher.


http://www.dreamstime.com/-image8529767On another note, BLAZING A TRAIL: YOUR SELF PUBLISHING JOURNEY is coming back from the copy editor today. Soon I’ll be turning it over to my formatting guru, Natasha Fondren. If all goes as planned BAT will be available in mid-March.

Writing a non-fiction book has been a different experience for me, and one I would have put off if readers of this blog hadn’t asked for it. Thanks to everyone who gave me a push!


Also in March, I’ll be teaching the class “Before You Indie Publish” for WriterUniv.com. If you’re not sure if self-publishing is for you, or if it seems like an overwhelming task, I’ll be discussing the whys and wherefores of  my decision making process.


And if you’re in the Tucson area, don’t forget the Tucson Festival of Books on March 9th and 10th on the University of Arizona campus. Hundreds of authors will be speaking there including moi. If you’re a book lover, it doesn’t get much better than this.

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My Self Publishing Journey: Second and Third Guessing

As I’ve been revising my blog posts into a book about my first year of independent publishing, I’ve found a significant amount to revise. Mostly its because I’ve learned more about the process since I first wrote various posts. Usually I know what changes I need to make, but on the topic of self promotion my choices are less clear.

As I’ve written before, there are many who say that the use of social media networking is the author’s friend. At first this seemed like a no-brainer to me. It’s FREE, and provides a means to connect with readers and establish a relationship with them so that they’ll be more interested in buying books. It’s important to be genuinely friendly and not just say, “Buy my book,” over and over again. One method to do this is to find a topic you really enjoy and discuss that, not your book. It’s a pretty well established principle that people prefer doing business with people they like, so all this makes sense.

Except there are people and surveys that suggest that spending time on social media networks isn’t really very productive, as measured by sales. Joe Konrath reports that after watching his sales very carefully in relation to when he did blog tours or gave national interviews, he found that his sales barely moved. Dean Wesley Smith and Kris Rusch both recommend spending your time writing the next book rather than promoting the last one. In a survey done by Bowker and Romance Writers of America, readers reported that they were not influenced to buy by reading an author’s Tweets, Facebook, or their blogs.

I know I’m not. But even knowing this, I still find the the idea that using social media is the author’s ticket to big sales seductive and hard to ignore. It suggests that we have some measure of control, that we have a way to directly influence buyers. If even traditional publishers expect their authors to get out there and hustle, it must work, right?

So what’s an indie author to do? Does social media work, or not? How do we tell the world our book exists? How do we find our audience?

I feel a little disingenuous telling you that social media doesn’t work when I haven’t given it the full court press myself. Even though various surveys’ data suggests it’s not much use, I use Twitter occasionally for a brief announcement that a book is free (not what social media experts say you’re supposed to do), and Facebook a little more because it amuses me. But does it help my business? I think a few people have found my books because of it. Is that enough to justify the time spent? That’s harder to say. When you’re starting out every sale is a singular and special event. An author friend says she notices a small spike in sales when she occasionally mentions her books. Two others have used Goodreads’ contests to good effect.I blog because I read advice two and a half years ago that said I should build my online platform before I publish. I enjoy the blogging, but has it helped my sales?

I can answer the last question with a qualified yes. I’m pretty sure I’ve made sales because other writers found my blog. That led to me being invited to guest post to a wider audience because, and to teach a class on indie publishing. So that, at least, has been worth the time invested.

I’ve also used price manipulation to attract readers. At various times I’ve made my books free on Kindle Select. (You can make your books free without being exclusive to Amazon, but it’s a little more complicated, and you won’t have as much control over the dates. I use KS because Amazon has, for the moment, the biggest share of the online market by far, and I like making money from Amazon Prime borrows.) I firmly believe that many, many more people have discovered my books because they were free than would have through social media, and it took up much less of my time.

What I’ve concluded from reading various points of view is that authors need to use different tools when they’re at various points of their careers. A brand new author with no publishing history most needs to write and publish multiple books, but they also need to do a little social media to at least let their friends know they have a book out. Once a writer has a few books out, then it might make sense to spend a little more time promoting, like soliciting reviews. But even then, writing should be the top priority. I, for one, am not a fast writer, so the best use my time is to create the books that my fans are asking for. Later, when an author has an established following her need for social networking diminishes again, as word of mouth is her primary and most effective promotion.

That’s the plan I’m using for now, until I see data that convinces me to change course. Because in the end, it’s our books that readers want most, not our Tweets.



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My Self-Publishing Journey: Kindle Select Revisited and a FREE Book

I just read posts by Phoenix Sullivan and Edward Robertson (no relation) that contain important information for anyone planning to use Kindle Select’s free promotion days as a springboard to success for their indie published book. Basically, in a nutshell, Amazon has changed its algorithm again (possibly in anticipation of a change in the agency pricing model they’ve been working with for the last several years) so the free downloads of Kindle Select books are no longer weighted as favorably as they used to be in the sales reports. That means the books downloaded for free won’t help your book move up the best seller and popularity lists as much as they did in the past.  (They still help, just not as much as a paid sale.) It also means that your book’s rank will remain more stable. When every Tom, Dick, and Mary put their books up for free, the rush of free downloads won’t overwhelm your book’s sales rank.

Does that mean you should abandon Kindle Select as a strategy for getting your book noticed?

Both Phoenix and Ed say KS still has its uses. It’s just not as much of a magic bullet as it used to be.

Going free for a few days will still get your book into the hands of readers who might not otherwise have taken a chance on your book. Not all of those downloads will get read right away, and not all of those will translate into future sales. But some will. In direct mail advertising, this is called the conversion rate. The ratio of sales to advertising “units.” That’s what your free books are:  advertising units.

What will I do? I’ve scheduled a free promotion of  LIGHTBRINGER starting today. I scheduled this before I read these posts, and I don’t see any reason to change my mind.  Sales of LIGHTBRINGER have dropped off to pre-free levels, so I figure I might as well go for it. Even if the “3 day bump” in sales (an increase in sales that used to come come about 40 hours after the free promo ended) is much smaller than it was the first time I did it, it still will help get my book into more readers’ hands. As Ed mentions, word of mouth is still the best advertising a writer can hope for.

What I think this means is that indie authors will have to focus on the basics again: writing a good book, good formatting, good cover, good reviews.  And a willingness to experiment.


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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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Promoting Yourself Professionally in Public

I’m late posting this week because my husband and I had the pleasure of taking TusCon’s Guest of Honor Patricia Briggs and her husband Mike to the Desert Museum yesterday. (They were delightful guests and great fun to be with.) After several days of too little sleep and an afternoon walking around in the sun, I was a little too fried to write anything you’d want to read. But after getting up early to go to the dentist to replace a broken crown (fun!) I’m back.

As I wrote last time, TusCon is my local science-fiction convention. In many ways it resembles a family reunion with 400 cousins you only see once a year. It’s a smaller convention, which gives authors and fans an opportunity to mingle and make new friends like Patty and Mike Briggs, and Carol Berg. It’s also a safe place for me to practice promoting my books.

I was scheduled to be on three panels, a reading, and the mass autograph. During the convention I volunteered to be on another panel, and was asked to fill in on a fifth. Of course I was happy to help. I’ve been on panels before as a “pro” since I’ve had short stories out for several years, but this time it felt a little more like I deserved to be there and less like I was dressing up in my mother’s clothes. I had VEILED MIRROR and LIGHTBRINGER to prop up in front of me.

I’m okay with speaking in front of small groups, and TusCon is a very relaxed environment, but there’s always a little insecurity–and that’s a good thing. That caution will help you be professional. Here are some tips. Some of them may seem obvious, but there good to remember.

  • Be clean in body and breath. Your fellow panelists will thank you, and you never know, this may be the only time someone in the audience ever sees you. Like they say, you only have one chance to make a first impression.
  • Be sober and rested (if possible). Fatigue and alcohol can impair your judgement. After you say something in front of a crowd it can’t be unsaid.
  • Know what you’re talking about. Have the facts. It’s embarrassing to be corrected in public.
  • Accept correction graciously and with good humor.
  • Don’t talk too much and don’t interrupt. Let your fellow panelists contribute.
  • Don’t talk too little. You’re there because someone thought you had something to say. Contribute.  It’s okay to mention your books. You should. But don’t use your books to illustrate every point you make.
  • Smile (when appropriate).  You’ll feel better and so will the audience.
  • Listen. Don’t just be thinking of the next thing you’re going to say. (A strategy Patty Briggs uses: bring paper and pen to make notes of points you want to make later.)
  • Compliment the other panelists when they make a good point and thank them afterward.
  • Have fun. Even if you make a make a mistake, it will make a good story later. And it’s seldom as bad as you think it is.


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My Self-Publishing Journey: Getting The Word Out

One of the things I love about where I’m at in my journey is that I’ve come to accept that it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission. By that I mean, I accept that I’m going to make mistakes, but almost anything can be recovered from. That’s one reason I enjoyed Roni Loren’s blog “Writer Under Construction: 10 Things I’d Do Differently.”  It’s a long post, but I recommend you read it.

I really liked her points that there is NO ONE RIGHT WAY.  As we grope our way toward publication, we’re going to hear many voices offering contradictory advice. That’s a good thing. You WANT to take in a variety of information. How else will you know what your options are?

With regard to getting the word out to the reading public, Roni mentions the disparate advice that you should:

  • Wait till you’re published to start a blog or get a website
  • Start a blog at least two years before you intend to publish, so you have a following when your book comes out.
  • Write about what you know: writing
  • Appeal to non-writing readers
  • Blog consistently and frequently
  • Blog occasionally and only when you have something to announce.
  • Use every form of social media you can
  • Just write the next book. It’s your best advertising.

There are so many options for self-promotion, choosing can be overwhelming.  But choose we must. And in some cases, (as in selecting a name to write under) it’s best to choose early so you avoid a lot of “do over” work. Here’s what I did/am doing/am going to do:

  • I chose to write under a variant of my maiden name because my married moniker didn’t say “romance.”
  • I bought my domain name as soon as I chose my pen name and put up a decent, though not fancy website.
  • I started blogging almost two years ago. Building an audience has been slow, but leaped as I learned better how to let people know the blog was out there, and how to use the technology.
  • It took me some time, but I found a visual theme that represented my “brand” of Romance, Mystery, and Magic
  • I aimed my blog more and more at other writers.
  • I reduced my frequency of blogging to twice a week so I could be more consistent.
  • I decided to add posts that will appeal both to writers and to non-writing readers. (More on this below.)
  • I’ve decided to redirect my website URL to my blog, where I can do the same things. (Soon.)
  • I may spend actual money on advertising, but it will be very cautiously spent. For the most part I’ll use free social media to get the word out. (Always ask yourself if the advertising you’re buying is likely to result in more sales — either directly or through increased word-of-mouth —  than you have to make to pay for it.)
  • I made up my mind to try new things. (That was a big one for me. I tend to be cautious.)
  • I accepted that everything takes more time than I expect it to. Fortunately, that’s one of the benefits of self-publishing. My books won’t be pulled and stripped if the sales don’t reach a certain level within three months — or less. I have time to try different approaches to build sales.

One of the things I mentioned above is that I want to draw in more non-writing readers. Most of my future fans won’t be writers after all.  So once a week beginning Thursday, I’ll be posting excerpts from VEILED MIRROR,  which is coming out September 21st in digital format, and a little before that in POD format.  If you enjoy what you read, I hope you’ll share the link with your friends.  Mondays will still be about various aspects of writing and publishing.

Thanks for reading! I enjoy writing this blog and sharing my journey with you!



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Five Pespectives on Self-Publishing

Passive Guy pointed me to a conversation among five New York published authors who have gone indie, and I highly recommend it. Not one of these authors bad-mouthed traditional publishing, though they all cautioned authors to be vigilant when signing contracts and understand what rights we’re signing away.

So much of the current conversation about self-publishing is one sided. What I liked about this conversation is that it gives the reader five viewpoints on the subject of self-publishing, and covers many of the common questions surrounding it. Here are some highlights:

How does self-publishing compare for you to your traditional publishing experience?

Beth Orsoff:  I’ve had much more success self-publishing than I did as a traditionally published author.  I’ve sold many more books, earned ten times as much money, and I’m able to write what I want instead of what an agent or editor thinks will sell.

Julie Ortolon: No comparision. I love everything about self-publishing. The freedom, the lack of stress, the control. That said, writing under contract for major print publishers was a great training ground. Succeeding at self publishing without that experience would probably be harder for me.

Do you feel your success in self-publishing is due to your “name” created by your traditional publishing history?

Kathryn Shay: Yes, I do. I had fans who were waiting for a new Kathryn Shay book and many of them got my sales started.

Beth Orsoff:  Definitely not since I’m quite sure no one knew my name from traditional publishing.

Julie Ortolon: I think my name recognition from my print career helped a little, but no, I don’t think that’s why I’m succeeding so well self-publishing my backlist (with new stories on the way). Fans of my print books already own them, so they’re not the ones buying those same titles as ebooks. The ebooks are bringing me a whole new audience. From the fan mail I’m getting, these readers never heard my name before they tried one of my e-titles. Then they went out and bought the rest. It’s the writing, not the name, that helps an author win with ebooks.

What do you think is the biggest “myth” about traditional publishing?

Kathryn Shay: That once you sell a book you’ve “made it.”

Patricia Ryan: I think the biggest myth is that publishers will promote your books. Publishers do little or nothing to promote the books of midlist authors. They encourage those authors to self-promote, which takes time and costs money.

What about self-publishing? What is the biggest myth there?

Beth Orsoff:  That self-publishing is some type of get rich quick scheme where you’re going to upload your book and instantly be earning a six-figure salary.  It’s just as hard to be successful  as a self-published author as it is as a traditionally published author.  The difference is, if you’re successful self-publishing you might actually be able to make a living at it.

Patricia Ryan: I’ll go back to the subject of promotion. Some people think if you self-publish, you’re going to have to spend more time promoting your work than if a traditional publisher puts out your book. As I said before, publishers don’t promote midlist books, so unless you’re a major lead author, you’ll be spending the same time, energy, and money on promotion either way.

Julie Ortolon:  That the only reason an author would “choose to” (aka “be lowered to”) self-publish a manuscript is because it wasn’t “good enough” to sell to a print publisher. SO not true! . . . a print publisher’s #1 question when considering a manuscript isn’t the quality of the writing, It’s the broadness of the audience. Brilliantly written stories get rejected all the time because the major print publishers don’t perceive them as having blockbuster potential. That has nothing to do with the quality of the writing. Those same stories can be hugely successful and profitable for the author if put out as an ebook. The big winner in all of this isn’t just the authors, it’s the readers. Ebooks equal variety.

What advice would you give someone considering signing with an agent or a publishing house?

Doranna Durgin:  Understand enough about both facets of the industry–and about your own personal needs and goals–so you can do what everyone else here has said and weigh the pros and cons in complete context of what’s best for you.


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The Self-Promotion Jungle

In the changing world of publishing it has become a truism that authors must learn to promote their own work.  It is believed that legacy publishers do relatively little marketing of any but their most popular authors (though I know a mid-list author who is very happy with her publisher’s efforts on her behalf), and that small publishers just don’t have the budget to do much.  Independently published authors obviously must shoulder the entire burden of letting readers know that their books exist.

There’s a wealth of information about self-promotion from authors like Seth Godin, Steve Weber, Gary Vaynerchuck, Tim Ferris, M.J. Rose, and Chris Guillebeau.  All recommend using free social media (blogging, facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.) as one leg of your promotional stool.

Free is good.  You’re running a business after all.  All other things being equal, the lower your overhead, the higher your profit.  Unfortunately, all promotional efforts aren’t equal.  Some things work better than others at getting attention and building a fan base. (Should you pay for advertising?  Hire a publicist?) Some may take more time or money, but produce considerably better results.  (Kris Tualla recently produced a CD with excerpts of all her books, audio readings, and videos as a give-away at a national conference.)  Or you may spend a bundle and not see any improvement in sales at all. (Promotional items like pens, bookmarks, and sewing kits are big business.)  But how do you know what works and what doesn’t?  What’s the cost/benefit ratio?

And don’t forget to count all your costs.  We’ve all heard the old saying, “Time is money.”  But even more important,  Time is your Life.  It’s finite. You don’t want to waste it.  That’s one reason Tim Ferris recommends hiring a virtual assistant – but only to do only what is necessary and effective.  It’s why Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch point out that the best use of your time is writing your next book.  Self-promotion is important, but don’t let it take the place of creation.

Otherwise, when your efforts pay off, and Ms. Reader consumes your opus with delight and looks for your next book, she’ll be disappointed . . . and she’ll go looking elsewhere for her next fix.

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Finding a Career Path

Once you find your niche, you may want to consider what path you’d like your career to take.  I suspect that most of us don’t really decide on a career path.  There wasn’t much of a choice when many of us started writing.  Back then the choices numbered in the single digits.  As in two.  Fiction and non-fiction.

If you chose to write non-fiction, which many did because it seemed to offer a chance of earning a real living, you could write for magazines or newspapers.

If you chose to write fiction, where few of the authors earned a living wage, you made a name for yourself writing short stories, then you got an agent who sold your novels to one of about 30 publishers.

Nowadays the choices have changed somewhat.  Newspapers are on the ropes.  Most of the print magazines that are still alive are more ads than articles.  There aren’t many print mags publishing short stories anymore, and the big publishers have bought up one another until there are only six, each with a number of imprints.   Meanwhile, an amazing number of small presses have sprung up.  Some are healthy and growing, like Samhain and The Wild Rose Press, others such as Triskellion have failed (as 50% of all start-up businesses do).  Simultaneously, online opportunities to publish have exploded.  You can even self-publish, both digitally or through offset or Print-on-demand (POD).

More titles than ever before are being published, but fewer copies of each.  Advances in many genres are being lowered.  “Two and out” is not uncommon:  your book must succeed quickly, and each book has to sell more than the one before, or your print run will be cut.  (Then, in the definition of self-fulfilling prophesy, you will automatically sell fewer copies and you will be cut.)  If booksellers don’t unpack and shelve your books promptly, well, too bad.

Amazon announced that last quarter, e-books outsold mass-market.  According to a publisher I recently dined with, mass-market is dying.  E-books comprise 8.3% of sales and are growing.  But that means that at present, traditional books are still 92% of sales.

Planning a career in this time of flux isn’t easy.  A lot depends on a writer’s priorities.  We all want people to read our work, but how many is enough for a good start?  How long are you willing to wait until an agent or editor deems you marketable enough?   How much of your writing time are you willing to put toward self-promotion?  Are you willing to do everything and self-publish?  How important is it to you to have the validation that comes from selling a book to a publisher? Does it have to be one of the Big Six, or will a small press sale do it for you?  Is cash-flow important?

There are no right answers, and no single right path.  I suspect that as in evolution, the successful author is going to be the one who best adapts to the changing environment.


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Writerly Speaking

My friend Michael Charton guest-blogged this post about speaking for writers.  He makes a good case that writers need to do everything in their power to promote themselves, including speaking in a variety of venues.

Many of us writers are introverts and we regard speaking to a large group of strangers as tantamount to setting ourselves on fire. But you still need to talk.

So don’t talk to strangers.  Not at first anyway.  Talk to a small group of people you know.  A book group, for example.  Talking to friends isn’t scary, is it?  You do it all the time.  Then gradually expand your comfort zone.

In January I’m talking to our Romance Writers of America chapter about “Applying Timothy Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Work Week to the writer’s life.”  This will be the third time I’ve addressed our chapter formally, but I’ve spoken before the group many times.  There will probably be about forty people in the audience.  I still get a little nervous, but it helps to remember that physiologically, excitement produces the same feelings. It’s all in how you think about it.

So I’m excited to be speaking next year, because every time it get easier and more fun.



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