Book Marketing – What Works? (Part 7): Interview with author DeAnna Knippling

DeAnna Knippling and Books

Welcome to the final interview in my Book Marketing – What Works? series, here on Writing to be Read. So far, we’ve heard from independent authors Cynthia Vespia on face-to-face marketing vs. digital marketing, Tim Baker on branding, Amy Cecil on street teams and social media marketing, and traditionally published YA author Jordan Elizabeth with an altogether different approach to street teams. We’ve also heard from authors who have published both independently and traditionally, Mark Todd and Kym O’Connell Todd on blogging as a marketing strategy, and Chris Barili weighed in on social media marketing and Amazon KDP. It seems no matter which way an author goes in today’s publishing arena, they are going to be responsible for the majority of marketing and promotion for their book.

In my final interview today, I’ll be talking with independent author, DeAnna Knippling, who has created her own brand and press to publish her books under. DeAnna is a talented lady and multigenre author, who not only publishes her own books, but freelances as a ghostwriter, as well. I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing three of her wonderful books, How Smoke Got Out of the Chimneys, Clockwork Alice, and Something Borrowed, Something Blue. DeAnna also shared with my readers in an earlier interview how she came about creating her own press to publish her books under. Today she shares with us a little about her book marketing experiences and talks about free promotions.

Kaye: How do you measure which marketing strategies are effective?

DeAnna: The ultimate proof is whether sales go up and stay better than they were before for a while. I tried a bunch of things that did well for a brief burst but left me no better off than I was before; I’m starting to be choosier about what strategies I stick with because of it.

Kaye: These days, reviews are a valuable marketing tool. What is the most effective way you’ve found to bring in reviews for your books? How much effect have reviews had for you?

DeAnna: Right now, I have an Advanced Readers’ Copy list that works better than other things that I’ve tried.  That is, if you’re willing to be a guinea pig, I’m willing to send you free books.

I started looking at who was reviewing my books on Goodreads earlier in the year and went, “Holy crap, I have readers who read 50+ different books a week and review all of them.”  I’m not joking. I call them super-readers…I started thinking about what I could do to attract more of those super-readers, and this is one of the techniques that I’m trying.  We’ll see if the others work; most of my ideas have to happen down the road a bit.

As far as the effect reviews have had for me, I had the good luck a while back to be riding near the top of a couple of the Amazon lists I was in while reviews were actually coming in (and while I was obsessively hitting the refresh button on Kindle Direct Publishing and the Amazon sales page).  Overall rankings went up by like 50 points an hour after the first review went live, even though only like one or two additional sales rolled in.  Reviews don’t always have such a measurable effect, but it was a blast to see at the time.  Also, when someone emails you off an ARC and tells you that you’re becoming one of their favorite writers ever and their review is up now, it really encourages you to keep going.

Kaye: You have used Instafreebie to promote your work. How does that work? How effective is it?

DeAnna: I think there are other resources about how to use Instafreebie that would work better than me trying to explain the basics in any kind of useful depth.  For the sake of the rest of the answer, though, I’ll sum up:  Instafreebie is a site where, for $20 a month, they host your ebooks and collect potential readers’ emails (for which the readers receive a free copy of the ebook).  You can boost the number of eyes on your book by joining group emails/group promotions, separate from Instafreebie.

It worked well for me, but I got in at exactly the right moment:  enough writers were participating in group promotions that the book giveaways hit a lot of new readers, and readers weren’t burned out with ereaders full of free books yet.  I added more emails than I knew what to do with and ended up costing myself a lot of money on MailChimp.  I actually had to cut some emails off the list–people who weren’t opening my newsletters. (I even got some responses back from MailChimp saying I had been reported as spam a couple of times and that the person hadn’t signed up for the list–not true; they had just signed up for so many lists that they had no memory of mine whatsoever).

Instafreebie allowed me to build up enough readers that I was able to put together an ARC list and to connect with some amazing readers that I wouldn’t have otherwise reached.  However, I’m not paying for Instafreebie any longer.  I don’t know how it’s going now; I just know that the flood of new newsletter readers who may or may not ever read my book was more than I could deal with.  Maybe when I get a better sense of how to market via my newsletter, I’ll try it again.

Sometimes you pounce on marketing opportunities.  The cost/benefit analysis on marketing shifts constantly.  “What works today won’t work six months from now” is kind of an ebook marketing truism.

That being said, no quick-response marketing strategy will work if you don’t have the basics covered, like having an updated website and a newsletter and a way for your readers to find your books and to contact you or connect with you.  There’s a lot of passive marketing stuff that supports the big, quick-turnaround experiments like Instafreebie.  Otherwise the readers fall through the cracks and disappear after they get their free ebook or whatever.

Kaye: A lot of authors today offer their work for free, or do limited free promotions. I’ve never really understood this. How does giving away your work pay off?

DeAnna: I think it depends on how you see readers, which is not to say that one way is better than another.  I mean, I know people who swear that giving away books for free will be the death of a career.  But I just can’t see giving away free ebooks as dooming me to failure per se, any more than you can see it the other way.

I see obtaining a loyal reader as an investment.  I want them to read my work and love it so much that they pass it on to someone else.  I’m willing to invest a free ebook or ten to see whether I can flip them to loyal readers.  If yes, YAY.  If not, it’s a sign that I need to work harder and keep learning.  I don’t write irresistibly good fiction yet.  I’m working on it.  Oftentimes, the people who are buying my books are people who are on my ARC list, who already have the free ebook in hand, and want to help support me.  I know, because they care enough to email me about it.  I tear up every time.

Maybe when I write fiction that I know people can’t resist, I’ll restrict my opportunities for free stuff.  I have already done that a bit.  For example, I no longer give away books for free per se.  I want an opportunity to keep reminding the reader I exist via newsletters or whatever–I want the opportunity to try to win them over.

Kaye: What other marketing strategies have you employed? Which ones worked for you?

DeAnna: I’ve tried a lot of things, and most of them are irrelevant at this point–we’re past the six-month mark.  What it comes back to:  your readers are your boss.  Write a lot.  Write better every time.  Stay in contact.  Don’t work for the jerky boss, work for the one who appreciates your work.  Keep your information updated.  Be a person, not a marketing machine.  Say please and thank you.  When you reach out to new readers, treat it like a job interview.  Keep your eye open for ways to go a little bit above and beyond.  Keep your eye open for ways to team up with bloggers, reviewers, other writers, and readers.  When you’re selling a book, sell the book–describe your book in a way that makes somebody drool, instead of saying things like, “I have a new release, check it out LOL.”  Investigate why people like what you write, how you make them feel when you’re at the top of your game, and sell that.  Be ready to pounce on opportunities, and learn from train wrecks so you can pounce on fewer train wrecks.

Marketing is hard.  It takes time and respect.

Kaye: What works best to sell books for you, as far as marketing goes?

DeAnna: Staying honest with myself and writing the books that are in me, and not the books I think should be in me.  I had to look at myself and go, “I write hipster pulp.  I write trope-filled popular fiction stories with quality ingredients, decent technique, a few original weird touches here and there (the equivalent of sriracha mayo on a juicy burger, I guess), and with a bit of ironic perspective and humor.”  Suddenly, voila, I had more sales.

More seriously, though, knowing yourself and your work on this level is sometimes known as “branding.”  The description is a bit facetious, but…well, it’s not exactly wrong, either.

I know what writers are looking for is a magic button to make their books take off in the market, but there isn’t one.  What you want to be able to do is repeat success and learn from failure.  Don’t be the person who writes one book (or one trilogy) that takes off and who then cannot repeat that success or in fact finish another book at all, ever.  Don’t be the person who burns out on writing because of all the marketing you have to do.  Do what it takes to stay in love with writing first and foremost, experiment with different techniques, and be prepared to fail on a regular basis.  Try to fail in a different way each time.

Also, if you can write porn, do that.  It sells really well.

Kaye: What’s your favorite social media site for promotion? Why?

DeAnna: Purely for promotion, as opposed to staying in contact with people?  Probably Goodreads.  Highest proportion of dedicated readers and super-readers.  Lots of great data, too, if you poke around a bit and make a few inferences.

Kaye: What advice do you have for authors who are trying to get their work out there?

DeAnna: Don’t blame the readers.  If your ads don’t work, if nobody shares your posts, if nobody wants to review your book, if nobody gushes over your cover, etc., etc.  Don’t blame the readers.

I want  to thank DeAnna for taking the time to answer all my questions. It’s evident by her answers that she’s put in the time, both in writing and marketing, and it’s wonderful that she is willing to share with us here on Writing to be Read. You can learn more about DeAnna’s books at Wonderland Press.

This is the last of my interviews for this series, but be sure to drop by next week to take a look at my conclusions in the last post for Book Marketing – What Works?.

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“Something Borrowed, Something Blue” Will Chill Your Bones Through and Through

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As rare as it is these days to find a truly well written horror story which draws the reader in and gets a grip, Something Borrowed, Something Blue, by DeAnna Knippling was a pleasant surprise. This novelette gives off a feeling that something ugly lies just below the surface, something that we can’t quite see, but the feeling says that the situation will not end well, and in that we are not disappointed. In the fashion of classic horror, this story makes readers want to say, “No! Stop!” even when it’s clear that events have already been set in motion and there is no turning back.

Sometimes being prepared isn’t the best policy, especially when you’re faced with something no one could be prepared for; something unimaginable that makes the skin crawl, yet demands action. Something Borrowed, Something Blue makes a connection with readers because it’s a situation they can place themselves in, if only in the dark recesses of their minds. Sometimes, that’s where the monster’s dwell which we fear the most. The story’s resolution may leave readers with more questions than answers. This is the kind of story that makes you think, maybe for a long time, after you read it.

Something Borrowed, Something Blue is a well-crafted tale that honors great story telling tradition by capturing readers and not letting them go until long after they’re finished with the story. I give it five quills.

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Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.


Interview with author DeAnna Knippling

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This week, I’m interviewing Colorado freelance writer, editor, author and book designer, DeAnna Knippling. I first met DeAnna through the Pike’s Peak Writers when I was still serving as the Southern Colorado Literature Examiner. What struck me about her was her enthusiasm and willingness to help where ever she can. She treats her writing as a business and goes at it with a high degree of professionalism, yet she is personable and willing to share what she’s learned from her own writing experiences.

DeAnna Knippling writes science fiction, fantasy, horror, crime, and mystery for adults under her own name; adventurous and weird fiction for middle-grade (8-12 year old) kids under the pseudonym De Kenyon; and various thriller and suspense fiction for her ghostwriting clients under various and non-disclosable names. Her latest book, Alice’s Adventures in Underland:  The Queen of Stilled Hearts, combines two of her favorite topics–zombies and Lewis Carroll.  It’s the story of a tame zombie who told a little girl named Alice a story that got them both in more trouble than they could handle. Her short fiction has appeared in Black Static, Penumbra, Crossed Genres, Three-Lobed Burning Eye, and more.

Kaye: You created Wonderland Press to get your books out there. What all is involved in creating a press for your work and what are the advantages of doing so? I mean, why would an author do this rather than just throwing their book out on Amazon or Smashwords?

DeAnna: This isn’t one of the fun answers.  It’s stupid easy to make a “press.”  It involves no special equipment.  You look online, make sure nobody else has one of that name in your state, register a business name with your state or county (look up, “How to register a business name in [name of state]”), and Bob’s your uncle.  You might want to get more complex with an LLC or something–but I recommend leaving that for later, unless you already have experience doing that.  I am, of course not a lawyer and can’t give legal advice.  When you want to start looking at an LLC or corporation, I believe, is when you start having to worry about taxes and tax brackets.

I set up my press, “Wonderland Press,” because some publishing sites back in the day didn’t want you to publish books under multiple pen names under the same account without having a publisher name.  Then I realized that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with multiple blogs for my pen names, and moved the names to the same website (for now).  However, things are changing, and I may need to move back to multiple websites, mailing lists, etc.  The thing about business is that everything changes based on the scale of what you’re doing and how much time has passed since you set things up.  It seems like it’s more important to stick to a couple of core principles (bring customers back to a location you can control rather than social media–that kind of thing) and stay flexible in the details than it is to get wrapped up in questions like, “Should I set up a small press?”
Kaye: A lot of your books don’t fit neatly into a genre category or subcategory. How do you describe your books?
DeAnna: I’ve struggled with genre categories since I started publishing.  Part of the reason for that is that my subconscious loves to smash incongruous things together.  For example, I love puns and double entendres–two ways of seeing meaning at the same time–and I love stories that are really two things that don’t really go together being put together (like cowboys in space–Firefly).  The kinds of stories that I tend to write are kind of the opposite of sitting firmly within a genre and therefore being easy to describe.
I’m both looking into ways to get around this (by sneaking more solidly into genres) and finding out what parts of my genres I’m missing out on.  I recently finished up what I call “my cheesy ’80s genre novel.”  When I did the research to try to find out where to put it, I found that…it actually fits pretty solidly into the current Occult subgenre of Horror.  I keep trying to tell myself there’s nothing wrong with writing what feels cheesy (I certainly read it), but sometimes it takes a while for me to learn the obvious.
To actually answer your question?  Since I can’t copy my competitors, I describe my books by putting on the silliest movie announcer voice I can come up with and reading the blurbs out loud.  The more mock-serious the better.  Somehow it works.
Kaye: What’s the most fun part of writing a novel or a story? What’s the least fun part?
DeAnna: Most fun:  The fun parts. Least fun:  The parts that stick the fun parts together.
I get really bored at the least fun parts.  I think that’s where the books I write start getting weird.  If I plan a book, then I plan something at least a little bit more genre-specific than what actually comes out.  But then I get bored and jump the tracks.  I feel like writing a book is a process of going “Ooooh, shiny” over and over until I step into the circle of rope hidden under the leaves in the jungle, and the ending jerks me upside down into the air.
I wish it were that quick to write the end–it’s the slowest part of the book for me as I wrap up all the shinies that I’ve picked up throughout the plot–but that’s what it feels like.
Kaye: If your writing suddenly made you rich and famous, what would you do?
DeAnna: More of the same.  My major goal in life is to allow my wonderful spouse to become a pool boy at our eccentric castle in the mountains.  Travel more.  At least, I say those things.  Probably I’d still just begrudge the time I wasn’t reading or writing.  I’d go to exotic locations and just read a book.
Kaye: Why do you think some writers sell well, and others don’t?
DeAnna: Probably that stuff I mentioned about genre.  A lot of writers will look at a successful writer’s book and go, “What a terrible writer!  Why do they sell?!?”
But here’s my experience (based on ghostwriting so much):
The stuff that I’m forced to write to genre by my clients sells a lot better than the stuff I write for myself.
Granted, you still need to know what you’re doing.  But writing a book isn’t just about pretty sentences–it’s about making the constant readers happy, feeding their addictions.  The answer to why some books are massive successes when others aren’t is often, “Because they can see the forest for the trees–and you can’t.”  Cold but true.
Kaye: Any advice for upcoming authors who are trying to get a foot in the door?

DeAnna: Just keep working.  Everybody’s in a hurry to succeed.  Success!  Millions!  Riches!  Fame! But, in the end, it comes back to the basics.  Did you read?  Did you write?  Did you learn something?  Did you talk to other people in the writing community?

“A foot in the door” is just the feeling that the universe owes you something, or that you can sneak something past somebody.  “How do I cut in line past the people who have been working their asses off for years?” And the only answers are:  Write a good story, network, value your readers, don’t be stupid about genre, work your ass off, don’t fail on purpose.  That last one is pretty significant.  I’ve seen a lot of people give up or just put things off until they’re “ready.”  The hell with waiting for “ready.”  If you’re going to do that, you’ve already failed, because this is a bootstrap industry–nobody gets the magic green light.  Even people who are going traditional start out by hustling for publishers and agents.  Make someone else tell you no.  Make them tell you no a lot.
I want to thank DeAnna for joining us here on Writing to be Read, and for sharing her knowledge with us. If you’d like to learn more about Deanna or her books, her website and blog are at www.WonderlandPress.com.  You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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“The Clockwork Alice”: A Literary Work in the Tradition of Lewis Carroll

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The Clockwork Alice, by DeAnna Knippling,  introduces Alice, all grown up, and takes readers on a return trip to Wonderland, where all is not as it should be, or maybe it never was. Knippling does a smashing job of picking up the tone of the original Wonderland stories, making this a fantasy tale which will delight readers of all ages.

Many of our favorite characters make appearances, including the Red Queen, the White Rabbit, the March Hare, and the Cheshire Cat, to name a few. Alice discovers that all of Wonderland is actually made of clockwork mechanisms, including a Clockwork Alice, who looks just like the girl who she once was. But all is not as it should be in Wonderland, or maybe it never was, but it’s up to Alice, or one of the Alice’s, to stop the great unwinding, and set things back in order. Alice may uncover and foil the evil plot to destroy Wonderland, or perhaps she will destroy it all instead, because this trip to Wonderland is just as confusing, or maybe even more so, than the first.

The Clockwork Alice is a well-written, skillfully crafted story that is just plain fun to read. I give it five quills.

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Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.


“How Smoke Got Out of the Chimneys”: An Entertaining Ditty

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The short story How Smoke Got Out of the Chimneys by Deanna Knippling captures the tone of old England to perfection. Knippling has created a likeable main character in Smoke, a sharp young girl on the street who eeks out her living as a chimney sweep, and as one follows her brief tale, one can’t help but long to see her succeed.

Living as part of a street gang, Smoke is the oldest of the chimney sweeps, who passes for younger than she is due to her small stature, but she knows her days as a sweep are numbered and she must find a new mode of living before the gang retires her in a brothel. Fortune is on her side when an opportunity appears before her, but it’s not without risk. The resulting adventure had me rooting for her every step of the way.

Short, but well crafted and quite entertaining,  this tale is everything a short story should be. I give How Smoke Got Out of the Chimneys five quills.  Five Quills3