by Anne R. Allen
Ruth and I get lots of email from fledgling authors, both indie and trad-pubbed. The majority ask pretty much the same question:
"I've got great reviews, I'm on social media, and I send out a newsletter—just like [my publisher/agent/a blog guru/this book I read] told me to: why isn't my book selling? It's been out for six months!!!"
In other words, everybody wants us to tell them how to achieve sure-fire publishing success.
But we won't.
That's not because we're meanies. It's because we are fresh out of magic spells. And our wands have been recalled to Hogwarts.
Yes, Ruth has had a number of books on the NYT bestseller list and I've been an Amazon bestseller.
But we couldn't tell you exactly how a brand new author can climb up the charts right now. What we did worked for our books at the time. But times change. What worked even three months ago may not work now. Each new book, each new Amazon program change, and each new search engine algorithm change requires a different strategy.
Here's the thing: there IS no sure-fire formula. There never was. Traditional publishers don't have one and neither do indies.
Anybody who tells you otherwise is lying. Marketers only know what worked for certain books at a certain time.
I know you've seen dozens of books on Amazon that claim, "I became an instant Kindle Millionaire and So Can YOU!!"
But most of those books offer "formulas" based on old information. Some writers who jumped on the self-publishing bandwagon at exactly the right moment did zoom to the top and made a ton of money. Maybe they knew some handy-dandy tricks for gaming Amazon at that moment or maybe they just had the right book at the right time.
But if they're still selling big, they're probably using a whole new set of tricks or they got themselves a loyal fan base and kept it through a lot of hard work, prolific output, and books with mass appeal.
This year's Amazon is a whole different playing field from what we had even a year ago, and there are other playing fields to consider. As I wrote in January, the Kindle Unlimited program has changed everything.
But "different" doesn't mean "bad."
There's still money to be made as a self-publisher or if you publish with a small press. Success may be harder for indies to achieve now than 18 months ago, and you may have to think outside the Amazon box, but it’s still possible—and plenty of successful authors are doing it.
You do have to think smarter, have more patience, and get creative in your marketing. You shouldn't expect a few tweets, some glowing reviews from the ladies in your Mom's book club and a fancy website to rocket every new writer to stardom. And here are some other things that definitely don't work.
So what do we tell people who write to us with the age-old question, "how can I sell my book?"
First, authors should be aware of an important distinction I don't see mentioned often enough:
Nonfiction and Narrative (fiction and memoir) have different audiences and you can't sell them the same way.
A lot of the people who are telling you "there's gold in them thar ebooks" are talking about short, informational ebooks, not novels.
Marketing for nonfiction needs different emphasis. The most important thing to do as a nonfiction author is to establish yourself as an expert. A blog is essential. You can also get a lot of attention through instructional YouTube videos and podcasts as well as personal appearances.
The following tips are mostly for newbie novelists and memoirists.
But some can be applied to nonfiction authors as well.
These are a whole lot more likely to get your career going than Tweeting 24/7, paying to boost Facebook posts, buying followers and reviews, spamming online author groups, or any of the other gimmicky things way too many authors are doing.
1) Write another book.
I know, I know. You're tired of hearing that.
You've been stalled on that WIP ever since you launched your first book.
All your energy is going into writing those blogposts and Tweeting your book every half hour and sharing cat videos on Facebook and cooking food to photograph for Pinterest and Instagram and sending out newsletters and of course, endlessly begging for reviews…so there's no time to be creative any more.
Here's the thing: most of the stuff people tell you about online marketing just wastes time if you only have one book. What you want to do is build a brand. The way you do that is produce more product.
Remember the classic Saturday Night Live sketch about the mall store that sold nothing but scotch tape? Don't be that store.
Writing your second and third books should take priority over platform building. In fact, I suggest you don't try to publish your first book until you have another in the hopper—that goes whether you're querying agents and publishers or self-publishing.
Nonfiction authors: Your books may take a long time to research, so it can be tough to come out with more than one a year. But you still should be working on #2 as you market #1. You might consider putting some of the material you're working on for #2 on your blog if you're planning to self-publish. For great info on how to blog your nonfiction book, check out Nina Amir's blog How to Blog Your Book.
NF authors can also put some of your new material into speaking engagements, podcasts and videos.
2) Guest blog
Visiting a blog that addresses your core readership is something that can help sales even if you only have a single title. This is especially true for a memoir or personal journey story.
High profile writing blogs like this one are all well and good, but you'll do much better targeting smaller blogs that address your core audience.
If you've written a cancer survival story or a war memoir or a "wo/man vs. nature" story, Google your subject matter and visit as many blogs as you can find that deal with cancer support or Veterans issues or wilderness travel or whatever. Comment on those blogs. Get to know the bloggers. Then ask if you can be a guest.
Blog tours still work for some authors, so you might consider paying for a professional blog tour for your first book launch. But be aware that reviews that come from paid blog tours can't be posted on Amazon, and the bloggers don't get paid even though the tour organizer does. This means you might not get as much enthusiasm as you think you've paid for. (I've also heard of host bloggers asking for reviews or other quid pro quo reciprocation: stay away from any blogger who makes that kind of demand.)
If you're already here in the blogosphere, you may be able to organize your own blog tour simply by networking with your friends. Want to meet other writer-bloggers who might want to host you? Join the Insecure Writers Support Group, a fantastic blog group started by bestselling SciFi author Alex J. Cavanaugh.
Nonfiction writers: Guest blogging can be one of your most effective marketing tools, so you can get a lot of milage from networking and visiting other blogs.
3) Get some short work published (and enter contests.)
Getting your work in a vetted journal or winning a contest gives you a stamp of approval. It shows publishers, agents, and/or readers that somebody besides you and your mom think you can write. It can also make money, as I wrote in my article for Writer's Digest, 9 Ways Writing Short Fiction Can Pay off For Authors.
Some literary magazines take novel excerpts. If you've self-published your book, you can place bits of your book that work as stand-alones and mention they're part of a larger work. (Don't try to do this if you're querying, though, because it may violate a potential contract.)
Winning contests and getting short pieces published can also boost your self-esteem (and sometimes fill your wallet.) This is why I always include "opportunity alerts" at the bottom of each blogpost. These can be stepping stones to a successful career.
And two weeks ago, the wonderful Jodie Renner gave a step-by-step instruction on how to write a prize-worth short story.
If you skip the short story step, you may find it a lot harder to get your work discovered.
Nonfiction writers: Nothing establishes you as an expert better than getting your work published in a major journal in your field. Don't worry about how much it pays or the circulation numbers as much as the prestige involved and how closely it targets your audience.
4) Run a sale or countdown (if you're in KDP Select) and advertise the sale in bargain ebook newsletters.
Bookbub is the Rolls Royce of bargain-ebook newsletters, but it's very expensive and so selective they reject most applicants. But there are many others to choose from. Try Fussy Librarian, EBookSoda, EBookBargainsUK, Kindle Nation Daily, E-ReaderNews Today, Pixel of Ink or any of the new ones popping up all the time.
Ruth Harris has a rundown of some of the most popular newsletters in her post, Writer's Toolkit #4: How to Sell Your EBook
Here's another great overview from Cheryl Bradshaw .
And Molly Greene wrote an enlightening post about using something called Book Marketing Tools that submits your 99c book to over 30 sites for a flat fee of only $15.
But remember every genre is different. Fussy Librarian does very well for cozies and women sleuths, and another may be better for thrillers or nonfiction.
NOTE: if you have only one book, do not offer it free. Free samples only work if you have other products to sell. Otherwise you're just giving away the store. A 99c countdown works best if you're in KDP Select.
5) Network with your fellow authors for joint promotions.
One of the best sales tools these days is the multi-author boxed set, joint promo, or anthology. My newly-relaunched career got a huge boost in 2011 when I was invited to be part of the Indie Chicks Anthology, which showcased 25 indie authors.
Later a single weekend 99c promo put on by the "Official Chick Lit" Facebook group gave me the boost I needed to get onto some major bestseller lists. Joining with authors in your genre for a well-organized promo like this will put you on "also bought" lists of other authors in your genre on Amazon, so it can give you a huge ratings surge.
Most recently, I was in the "Six-Pack of Sleuths" boxed set that made some nice money for all of us and gave us all a jump in sales. The month after it came out, my author rank was in the top 150 mystery authors on Amazon.
So how do you get to be part of these promotions?
You have to be invited.
How does that happen?
You make friends with other authors in your genre. I can't emphasize enough how important this can be to your career.
This is also why you don't want to make a lot of enemies, as I mentioned in last week's post on How Not to Sell Books. Follow Wil Wheaton's Law. Treat your fellow authors as colleagues, not rivals. Acting like a kind, helpful grown-up person doesn't just keep you out of trouble. It helps your sales. If people are choosing between a book by somebody they like and one by an arrogant, infantile jerk, which one do you think they'll choose?
Visit other author blogs, especially high profile ones where lots of people will see your name so they'll feel they "know" you.
It's also a good idea to join some Facebook writer groups or start hanging out in groups on the Kindleboards. Not for drive-by promotion, but to make friends.
Some people have success with Goodreads groups, but I have not. I find the anti-author sentiment on Goodreads to be overwhelming. If you go, don't tell anybody you write. Keep your "reader" hat on.
And never, ever go onto the Amazon Forums (not the same as the Kindleboards.) It's notorious troll habitat. Toxic sociopaths lie in wait for newbie authors, looking for egos to flatten and careers to destroy. Even big name authors have asked Amazon to clean up the filth there. I hope that will happen soon.
Google Plus is a must-join for authors. Not only can you network with other writers in groups like Google Plus for Writers, but you get yourself on Google's radar—a necessity for authors. Google Plus is easy to use and doesn't take much time (turn off most of your notifications, or your inbox will fill up.) I just visit once a day and have made good friends there. I've also had over 7.5 million views. That's a lot of people who saw my book covers and my name.
So how can you do all this if you're madly writing your next book?
Use your social media time wisely: only get involved with a handful of social media platforms where you can make some friendships, but avoid arguments and long discussions. Tweet and share useful information for your fellow authors and retweet their sales and launches,
When it's your turn, they just might reciprocate.
6) Slow blog and forget the newsletter until you have more books out.
Yes. You read that right. I know every book marketing guru out there tells you to bombard potential readers with weekly updates about getting your carpet shampooed and how tragified you are that your pet gerbil has toenail fungus.
I could not disagree with them more. In fact, if you only have one book, I strongly recommend you do NOT send out a newsletter. You will annoy more readers than you'll get.
Newsletters only work when you have an established fan base that is desperate to know what happens next with your series or characters. You can be compiling a mailing list, but don't use it until you have something to announce. And only use it to announce books and sales. Nobody cares about your carpet shampoo dramas. Trust me on this.
And I recommend only blogging once a week for fiction or memoir authors. You won't wear out your welcome and you'll have more time to write. Blogging once a week or less is sometimes called "Slow Blogging" and it sure has worked for me. Here's one of my posts on Slow Blogging.
Nonfiction authors: The rules are different for you. Your blog is where you establish yourself as an expert, so I'd suggest blogging at least twice a week and incorporating your work on your next book into the blog.
You'll notice I haven't said anything about:
- press releases
- having a big book launch party
- taking yourself on a booksigning tour of the bookstores in your state
- attending book fairs and festivals
- public readings or speeches
- getting on talk radio and TV shows.
There's nothing wrong with these old-school methods. In fact the less expensive ones, like getting an interview on a local talk radio or TV show, can be cost effective and raise your local profile a good deal.
But in this era, you should be marketing globally, not just in your hometown. (Unless your book is a nonfiction piece about your hometown. Then you do want to go old-school.)
I do know that book launch parties and personal appearances can boost your confidence as a writer. They may be important rituals you need to mark the event of becoming a published author. I'm not telling you to rule them out. But do them for fun, not because you expect them to be cost-effective.
Ditto book fairs and genre conferences. They can be fabulous for networking and feeling like a "real author." But be aware your costs will far exceed your sales.
Nonfiction authors: One of the best ways to establish yourself as an authority is teaching or presenting at conferences, so again, my advice is different for you. Personal appearances are more important for you and you will probably sell a good number of books at conferences and other venues where you speak on your book's topic.
But no matter what your genre, you need to keep in mind that most successful authors make less than 10% of their income from paper books, which is why I urge new writers to concentrate on selling ebooks.
Now go write that next one!
What about you, Scriveners? Have you hit on the sure-fire key to publishing success? Have you tried any of these tips? Are you a first time author who has had a singleton title shoot to the top of the bestseller list in the last year and can prove me wrong? Have you followed marketing advice and found it didn't work for you?
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Labels: Bargain Ebook Newsletters, Book Marketing, Cheryl Bradshaw, Ebook Marketing, How to Blog Your Book, how to sell on Amazon, Molly Greene, No Place Like Home