Ask the Authors: Marketing and Promotion

Mountain of Books

Marketing and promotion is a tough one for many writers. While some may have artistic or designing abilities in addition to their writing skills, others, like me, must learn from the basics up, and its not an easy task. To get our book noticed amid the multitude of books, ebooks, and audio books that are out there today, we might have to be a little creative and search out multiple marketing avenues. It can be so daunting, that even someone who is knowledgeable about marketing and promotion, and is succesful in many of their efforts, like panel members DeAnna Knippling and Janet Garber, can be worn down with frustration, as the following comments regarding this marketing segment of the Ask the Authors series, as the following comments illustrate:

Janet Garber: Kaye, I don’t have answers to the questions. Wish I did.

DeAnna Knippling: I am so frustrated with marketing and promotion stuff right now, so I’m bailing on that.

In this day and age, more and more, the responsibility of marketing and promotion falls to authors. Digital publishing has changed the industry, and small press and self-published authors carry the brunt of it, and traditionally published authors may ask authors to carry more of the responsility than in the past, as well. Like it or not, marketing and promotion now fall under an author’s job description, as Cynthia Vespia reminds us with her publishing story: “Originally I was self published back before self publishing was cool I’ve been small press published, and I reverted back to self publishing. ALL of the marketing and promotion is on my shoulders.” Let’s see how our panel members handle the task.

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

Jordan Elizabeth: Book signings have sold the most.  I get in people’s faces and just have fun.  I’m normally a quiet person, but at events I can become someone totally new and outgoing.

Carol Riggs: I’ve sold the most e-books with BookBub ads, for 3 of my traditionally published books. I also sell books at SCBWI conferences because people know me and support me there. :o)

Chris DiBella: This is probably an off-the-topic answer, but my mom is actually my best marketing tool. She helps me to sell more books than anything. Everywhere she goes, she tells people about my books and somehow gets them to buy one. They all seem to like them, so I guess I can’t complain….then again, my mom seems to think I should already be outselling James Patterson, so there’s that expectation to live up to.

Cynthia Vespia: Public appearances have been my best resources. There’s something to be said for selling something face-to-face as opposed to using the Internet. I don’t have a massive community rallying around me, so it’s up to me to make my own sales. I do that best by being personable with people, interacting, and talking about common interests.

Chris Barili: Face to face things like signings, conventions, and so on. You can actively push your books at these events.

For marketing and promotion, do you prefer online advertising and book events, or face-to-face events? Why?  

Jordan Elizabeth: Face-to-face feels more personal.  I can talk to people about what they like and I can explain my books in detail.

Carol Riggs: Both have their strong points. Being introverted, I probably enjoy the online events more, but there’s a certain zest to actually meeting people and talking to them. I can get myself in a social mood for that, and find I enjoy it.

Chris Barili: Face to face has brought me more measureable success, but online reaches WAY more people. You can’t choose one or the other. You have to do them all.

Pintrest

According to WordStream, Facebook ads provide the biggest advertising opportunity since search, with twenty-two billion ad clicks per year. Of course, not all of those are book ads, but the fact is authors are faced with many choices when it comes to where to promote their books. While Facebook may get the most clicks per year, all social media are becoming a huge avenue for marketing and promotion, but how to know which venue is best? While some authors may do the research and promote on the sites that seem most profitable, many authors don’t have that much time and thus promote on the sites which we like best. That being said, let’s Ask the Authors and see where our panel members like to promote their work.

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

Jordan Elizabeth: I like Fussy Librarian best.  They only promote a few books a day, so you know your book won’t be lost in the shuffle.

Carol Riggs: I like Twitter, because promo is about making connections, not just shouting, “But my book!” all the time. And I can connect to people on Twitter whom I’ve never met, just by happy chance. It’s great! On Facebook, it’s mostly for connecting with people I already know, but with Twitter, I can expand my horizons and meet new people (while still connecting with the ones I already know).

Chris DiBella: Facebook works best for me because it reaches the most potential readers. I don’t use my blog any more, and I rarely use any other social media outlet, although I know I should. I use Amazon for free book promos, and I think I’m going to run one this weekend if anyone is interested in checking out one or more of my books.

Lost Voyage

Cynthia Vespia: I’m on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I lean more towards Instagram now because you can do alot more with a single image than with 40 characters or an entire Facebook post. I’ve also found Facebook has become stained with controversy, overrun with politics, and just isn’t fun anymore. The only issue with Instagram is not being able to put a hyperlink in your post. But if you’re imaginative you can get some good attention.  

Chris Barili: I think Twitter does a good job of announcing things. It’s short, so people read it, but I’m not sure many people click. I’ve had some success using Facebook boosted posts, too, and I think those are my favorites because they’re cheap, easy, and for me pretty effective.

What sites have you used for marketing and/or giveaways? Which do you recommend? Why?  

Jordan Elizabeth: GoodReads is best for giveaways.  Amazon is the second best.  I’m still figuring out which sites are good for which books.  So far, I can only recommend Fussy Librarian.  I haven’t had good luck with the others.

Carol Riggs: If you can snag one and can afford it, I’ve had good luck with BookBub. I used to like Goodreads for giving away paperback books, but now they are charging for this service and I can’t afford to do that.

Chris DiBella: Goodreads helps to reach a bunch of potential readers, but I don’t like to do giveaways on there. As I’ve mentioned in a previous week here, everyone is willing to sign up for a freebie, and who knows if you’re even giving the book away to someone who will actually read it. I guess the same can be said for Amazon as well, but I’ve found that my giveaways for Amazon Kindle usually generate some sales afterwards, so for me, this is the route I typically take.

Which of these marketing platforms have you tried? How effective did you find each to be? (Facebook ads, AMS, other paid ad campaigns) Which do you feel were money well spent?

Chris DiBella: I decided to pay for a promo on Facebook once. From that experience, I would never do it again. You get what you pay for, but I’m just against having to pay to reach potential readers on a social media site. I didn’t think it did anything to gain new followers or to help with sales. My advice is to spend your time on target advertising and get the people to your site who actually want to be there. I gained a few hundred followers from a paid promo, but it all seemed a little sketchy when those new followers were from some small little African nation I had never heard of. And as I expected would happen, I began receiving some very weird messages on my author page shortly thereafter. I won’t pay for Facebook ads anymore because of that.

Which book marketing sites have you found to be good (free or paid)? What do you like about them? What is the downside?

Chris Barili: Ebooksoda did pretty well for me during a Halloween sales press of the Hell’s Butcher series. So far, they’re the  only ones I’ve tried.

If you’re an author, you need to have a website. An author must have a blog to gain followers. You really have to do a newsletter to keep your followers up to speed on all your new releases. You absolutely have to build a mailing list. Who among us hasn’t heard all of these at one time or another? But, you would have to be a super author or a super marketer, or a little bit of both to maintain all of these, and let’s face it, no one wants to invest a bunch of time and/or money into something that isn’t effective in either gaining readers, selling books, or both. So, do we really need all of these things? Which ones work, and which don’t?

Website, blog, author’s page or a combination? What are the benefits of each?

Chris DiBella: I’ve recently decided to start using my personal Facebook page as my author page. I find that my posts reach more people and I don’t have to pay extra to “boost” my visibility. I’ve pretty much abandoned my blog and just use it as my website for now until I build my actual one.

Cynthia Vespia: I have all of them. My blog is on my website.The author page is through Amazon and Goodreads. I think you definitely need a website. It doesn’t have to be lavish, just a place where people can learn more about you and your writing. For the blog I try to use it to help people getting into the business.

I only recently began to build a mailing list for my new monthly newsletter back in March, and so far the going has been slow. I think perhaps my method of sign-up, which is a sidebar pop-up right here, on Writing to be Read, may not be noticable enough and since very few of the sign-ups have claimed the free e-copy of Hidden Secrets, my paranormal mystery novelette, I’m thinking the thank you message with the Instafreebie link is getting missed as well. (I just told you how to sign-up for my monthly Newsletter and get a free e-book! What are you waiting for?) It’s just a trial and error thing for me. Every marketing adventure is a learning experience , so I’m eager to see what our author panel members’ experiences have been. Shall we Ask the Authors?

Do you have one or more mailing lists? Do you have a newsletter? Which do you find to be useful or effective?

Carol Riggs: I’m building up my newsletter subscription for fans and friends who are interested in hearing about my latest releases and giveaways. I give them special treatment, and many of them are kind enough to leave reviews in return for reading my freebies, which I appreciate a lot.

Chris Barili: I have one mailing list, but it’s small. This is something I’m trying hard to improve on.

Cynthia Vespia: I have a newsletter. It hasn’t done much for me in exposure or sales so I’ve basically discontinued it.

Interviews help get exposure for the author and their books. I’ve been on both ends of the interview. In fact, I have interviewed many of our panel members. In addition to sitting on the author panel for this series, I interviewed Tim Baker for my 2016 Publishing series and my 2017 Book Marketing series, and Jordan Elizabeth for both Publishing and Book Marketing, as well an interview to start off 2018 on New Year’s Day. I’ve also interviewed Art Rosch for the Publishing series and Cynthia Vespia  and Chris Barili for the Book Marketing. And my interview with Margareth Stewart for the release of Open is how she and I met. But in book marketing and promotion, we want to look at the other side of the interview, from the author’s perspective.

interview

I’ll never forget how excited I was to do my first interview with Dan Alatore shortly after Delilah came out, back in May of 2017. I don’t know that it helped sell any books, (it was before D.L. Mullen made my awesome covers, and the cookie cutter cover my publisher provided was baaaad), but it sure helped to make me feel as if I had made it to the big time. Dan made me sound good, so it was pretty cool. So, let’s Ask the Authors how effective our panel members think interviews are. Do they sell books, or are there other benefits? Is landing an interview something we should strive for?

How effective have interviews been for you in your overall marketing scheme?

Carol Riggs: Friends and fans tweet for me on Twitter, invite me to guest post on their blogs (like this interview series, thanks so much!), and share things on Facebook. All those things are invaluable and help me out a lot.

Chris DiBella: I’ve done several interviews, but I don’t think they’ve really been effective in terms of generating more book sales. My advice for any new authors wanting to do interviews is to research who is conducting the interview. If they only have 5 followers, is it really going to help you in the long run? The argument can be made that reaching even one new reader is a success, but I guess you have to pick and choose when and where you decide to do spots.

Cynthia Vespia: It really depends on the person doing the interview. I’ve done alot of podcasts and for the most part I’ve had fun, but there have been a few times where the person running the interview has been monotone, dull, distracted, and just brought the entire show down. There’s only so much I can do when the person on the other end isn’t holding their end up.

What interview has been the most effective for you in terms of marketing? Why?

Jordan Elizabeth: I enjoy doing interviews because I can connect with the person interviewing me, and I like to think it gets my name out there, but I’ve never had anyone tell me they bought my book based on seeing my interview.
Cynthia Vespia: I was fortunate enough to get on the local news specifically to promote my writing in a one-on-one interview. It got alot of attention.
Follow-up: How did that interview come about?
Cynthia Vespia: For the interview, I ran into one of the newscasters at a store and spoke to her about my books and things. She told me who to contact.

What was the most fun interview you’ve ever done? Why?  

Jordan Elizabeth: Yours.  You ask the most interesting, thought-provoking questions.

(Kaye: (Blushing) Thank you.)

Carol Riggs: The most fun interview I did was with Moriah Chavis on A Leisure Moment for my book, THE LYING PLANET. It was a unique and creative interview, in which she asked me questions as if I were the Machine—the sinister contraption that judges each teen in the community on their 18th birthday.

PlayA picture speaks a thousand words, and a video can speak an entire book. Well, maybe. It’s certain that images attract attention more than posts with only words, if you want to sell books, you at least need to post an image of your cover. But some authors go beyond that and posts videos or book trailers to attract people to check out, and hopefully buy, their books. I recently made a book trailer for Delilah, and it certainly got more Facebook views than other posts I’ve made. (Unfortunately, I can’t feature it here for you, because the free plan on WordPress doesn’t support video.)Whether it increased my sales is yet to be seen, but let’s Ask the Authors to see what out panel members think about book trailers.

Do you use  book trailers? If so, do you create them yourself or hire them out? How effective do you think they are?

Chris DiBella: I created a book trailer for my first novel, Lost Voyage, and then for my first zombie book. I created them myself. It was pretty easy to do it on my own and make it look more professional than it actually was. For Lost Voyage, the music I used was from my band at the time, and for the zombie book, I used the music from a friend’s band (appropriately enough, it was a hard rock remake of the song “Zombie” by the Cranberries.). People liked then and thought they were fun. I’ve thought about making another trailer for my most recently published book. If it gets people to click on the post, it can’t be a bad thing.

Margareth Stewart: I do like having my books transformed into book trailers. This helps readers to experience them through motion pictures – Images may speak better than words. I have also hired this kind of service from “Fiverr” which has a fix price of US$ 5 dollars for each short film. It is an amount really worth spending. There are video editors available online where it is possible to produce and edit our films. I always make sure the images are copyright-free and I hope they call producers´ attention – more to the story than my film-making techniques – “who knows?”

Cynthia Vespia: I make a book trailer for every new release. They are effective enough to get attention.

Press ReleasePress releases, in my mind, were something a publisher did for an author to create buzz for a new release. But today’s authors are doing their own marketing, and a lot of the time, there is no publisher besides the author. I wasn’t even sure if folks still did press releases in a digital age, but I came across a template for a press release in the self-administered crash course in marketing and promotion I’ve been doing, so I made one up, geared to the local author angle and sent it out to several of my local papers. I also played on the fact that Delilah is set in Colorado, so I sent one to the Leadville paper, where most of her story takes place. I had one two positive responses, and one that for sure published it, which I just happened to catch with Google Alerts, which notifies me when my selected key words appear online. I don’t know if any of the others published, but I considered it a success just to get it in the papers I know about. I’m not sure how to measure its effect on book sales yet. It was an experiment for me, and I’m curious to learn about our panel members experiences with them. Let’s Ask the Authors.

Have you tried Press Releases? How effective were they?

Margareth Stewart: Yes I have, and I reckon it is a great mean to call people´s attention to my publications, especially new releases. I usually prepare a text with images, and send them by email. I have been figured out in radio programs and local newspapers. It is worth taking the time and the effort to straighten up relations with local audience. Sometimes, it does not immediately reflect on sales, but it works as the branding an author´s name. Besides, it is also a mean to being found through search engines! 

Cynthia Vespia: Yes. They haven’t done much for me.

Many authors today utilize street teams to find reviewers for their books or just get the word out. Street teams are usually made up of enthusiastic fans who don’t mind helping out their favorite author, and unlike P.A.s, they usually volunteer for the job and are not paid. I haven’t employed a street team, but anything related to marketing and promotion that doesn’t put a dent in my pocketbook is always of interest. Let’s ask our Ask the Authors panel members how effective they have found street teams to be and how they have utilized their street teams.

Do you have a street team? If so, how do you utilize them? What do they do for you?  

Jordan Elizabeth: I used to, but the girls started to be harassed by other authors and bloggers.  One by one they dropped out.  We’re still good friends and they read my books, but they no longer help with marketing.

Chris DiBella: My wife, my mom, and my brother are my current “street team”. They wear shirts I had made advertising my website. It’s not a massive marketing effort, but at least people are seeing my name intermittently….even if it is on the back of a shirt.

It seems no matter what publishing route one takes, a major portion, if not all of the book marketing and promotion falls to the author. Different authors approach the task in many different ways, from social media marketing, to live book events, to creating booktrailers, tee-shirts, and tire covers, to paid advertising spots, to newsletters, to press releases and interviews, to utilizing street teams to acquire reviews and or do promotion, to hiring ad agencies. Most of our panel members claim live events are more effective in marketing, but it seems both live and Internet promotion is needed, and perhaps even desired ina digital world. Of course, all of this barely scratches the surface of the world of book marketing. There is enough on this topic to fuel several series, but perhaps some of the information presented here will spark an idea for promotion or inspire a new marketing campaign for your own books.

If you have a question you’ve always wanted answered, but it’s not covered in the post on that topic, or if our panel’s answers have stirred new questions within you, pose your query in the comments. Make note if it is directed toward a specific author. Questions will be directed to the general panel unless otherwise specified. This is the last chance to pose a question for these panel members as next week will be the final post for this Ask the Authors series, I will present your questions and the responses I recieved from panel members there. See you next Monday!

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Ask the Authors: The Business of Writing

 

Author at Work

 

Being an author in this day and age means that we do so much more than just write stories. It used to be that a fiction author would write book, then write one or more cover letters and send them out to publishers, (or agents), and if said author was lucky enough to catch a publisher’s eye, a contract would be signed and, (hopefully), a nice big juicy advance would be recieved. (Once the author locks onto an agent, they take over introducing your work to publishers.)The author would then work with the editor assigned by the publisher until the book was honed to perfection, and then the book would be seemingly magically produced and the publisher would launch a marketing campaign. The author might have to make some appearances for the promotion, but other than that, the author’s job would be pretty much done and it would be time to work on the next book. Following the path of traditional publishing has never been easy, but the author did his or her part, writing, and the business end of the endeavor was handled by the publisher.

Today’s authors have it even more difficult, because self-published authors, or even those who hook up with a small independent press, take the business end of writing onto their own shoulders. Modern day authors are expected to run the gammut, writing the book and then getting it edited, formatted, and selling it too. The tools and skills needed to do this are probably not in your writer’s tool box, so we must venture out into the land of marketing and promotion, or hire out these tasks. Either way it is our job as authors to see that these things are done. 

Why do you think some authors sell well and others don’t?  

Jordan Elizabeth: Of those I know, the ones who sell the best are the ones who put in a lot of money for marketing.  They believe in their stories and really get the word out about their books.

Carol Riggs: Some authors are really good at marketing! They have the business brain along with a writer’s brain. Kudos to them; I’m not one of them. But also, some frankly don’t do well because they don’t take the time to make their writing the best it can be with revision and serious editing. They’re in too much of a hurry to be published. The ones who do the best take the time to write a good story and present it in a professional way. Also, if their cover nails their genre and is a strong image, those things go a long way. You can’t always judge a book by its cover, but readers do select books by their covers.

How much non-writing work, (marketing & promotion, illustrations & book covers, etc…), do you do yourself for your books? 
Jordan Elizabeth: The publishers do the editing and book covers, but I do all the marketing.
Carol Riggs: I designed the covers for my JUNCTION 2020 series; they’re all designed even though only two have been so far published. I have an arts degree, so that helps. The rest of the marketing and promo is up to me for those books, which means I haven’t done much because I’d rather write—lately I’ve been focusing on writing my new sci-fi. With my other, traditionally published books, my publishers did the bulk of the marketing and promo, which I really appreciate!
Cynthia Vespia: I do everything myself. I’m a one-woman show. Is it easy? No. But it’s all I have at the moment. In the past I’ve hired PAs and book promo tours but they all left a lot to be desired. If you’re a new author and you’re thinking of hiring someone to do promotion for you I say tread lightly. There’s a lot of people looking to just take your money with little to no return. So that’s a big reason I do a lot of my own promotion.
Chris Barili: Marketing and promo, and I don’t do nearly enough of them. They just don’t interest me, so writing pulls much harder on my heart strings. And thus, I’m not GOOD at either marketing or promotion.
Digital publishing really changed the rules of the game initially, but it seems the market is adjusting and print sales may be on the rise again. In Author Earnings’ Print vs. Digital Report, they compared digital sale”s on Amazon and print sales on Bookscan. In their research, while print sales still lag behind those of their digital counterparts, print brings in more overall revenue. This may have something to do with the fact that print books are generally priced higher than ebooks, but the numbers are interesting none-the-less.
Digital vs. Paper Books
How do you see recent changes in this digital world we live in affecting your writing as a business (positive or negative)?  
Jordan Elizabeth: In a way, its good, because people are buying ebooks.  The bad way is that now they are looking at other forms of entertainment, such as movies and YouTube videos.
Carol Riggs: I think it’s becoming more difficult for an author’s book to be seen in the ebook world, because many writers are choosing to self-publish their books. It’s overwhelming! A book really has to stand out and be unique in order to catch a reader’s attention.
Cynthia Vespia: It’s good and bad. The good is rather than continue to get doors slammed in your face because “it’s not the right fit” you can put your work out there yourself immediately and be the captain of your own ship. The bad is that EVERYONE is doing that now. You have people who have never thought about being a writer before publishing books because it looks so simple. It’s not simple, it’s a business like anything else. And in order to be a successful business you have to market yourself within the vast sea of books and authors that are out there now. You learn to navigate the waters of the digital world and try not to hit the rocks or sink to the bottom.
Chris Barili: I think the evolution of the digital world has both positives and negatives for Indie authors. There are infinitely more opportunities for publication and success, but the perils of falling into obscurity are also there. The fiction market is flooded now, and thus it is difficult to stand out. I think e-books are an amazing help for writers, as they allow our readers to take our stories everywhere. Stacks of them, all stuffed on a tablet.
Margareth Stewart: I see them as positive. There are changes in all fields every single day, no matter which area we work with. Nowadays, we have paper books and the whole tradition of printing industry living together with the advance of the digital market and Ebooks. Besides that, the revolution of audio books has just started. Once, I heard the following phrase which I reckon as very smart – “It is not because lifts and escalators were invented that we do not use stairs any longer”. The same I apply to books, “the more, the merrier”. I have published printed books and eBooks and both have advantages and disadvantages. I love printed books, but the distributions and the high costs of international shipping are making it difficult for people to access them, therefore eBooks are an option. The major global change in publishing industry does not seem to lay in its format – but in the possibility of self-publishing. This change of power also brings different perspectives – one of them is that the reader is now in the center of the whole process.

Do you think print books are on the way out? Print or digital? Which do you prefer and what are the advantages or disadvantages of each?

Cynthia Vespia: No. Print books will be here for a long time. Too many people, including myself, prefer holding an actual book in their hands.

Chris Barili: No, in fact, sales of print books have surged lately, though mass market paperbacks are out and trade paperbacks are in. E-book sales have leveled off lately. I think we’ll see both continue to share the market. I know I buy both, and I think other people do too.

It only makes sense to get your book out there in as many formats as possible. In the article, “You Can Succeed in the Marketplace as an Independent Author” on the Book Baby Blog, Steven Spatz points out that “independent authors who choose not to publish print books are severely limiting their potential sales because they’re willfully neglecting 30 percent of the market. Same thing with eBooks, especially given the report’s emphasis on self-published authors’ success in the eBook market.” I would take it farther in saying that with the recent growth of the audio market, audio books are quickly becoming a viable option, offering a lucretive avenue to increase book sales. 
Have any of your books been offered in audio format?  If so, how successful do you think this was in increasing your book sales? What was your opinion of the overall experience?
Cynthia Vespia: Not yet but I’m working on getting my books on audio as well. It is a great way to gain more exposure for your work. In this world everyone is so busy all the time they may not have the chance to sit down and read from a book, but if they can pop on an audio book in the car or at the gym then they most certainly will.
Chris Barili: Not yet, but I’m told an anthology I’m in will be done in audio format soon. I’m very excited about it.
Margareth Stewart: Not yet, although I do hope they will be soon. I think audio books are a major global influence and people are prone to listening much more than reading nowadays. They can listen to audio books while they are exercising, driving to work, travelling, taking buses, while they are waiting for something, walking, etc. I have been listening to audio books quite often and I simply love them. In the past, there were stories and novels which were read in radio programs before the outcome of television, and people loved them. Some of the largest publishers are making audio books available in their platforms and there are also mobile apps for download. “Whatever…if it is telling a story, it is worth it”. I always imagine the benefits audio books will bring to blind people, elderly who have reading difficulties, children with disabilities and so on.

Let’s talk about writing organizations such as the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Western Writers of America, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Horror writers’ Association, or smaller, local organizations like the one I belong to, Pike’s Peak Writers group, who put on an annual conference each year, or the even more local writing group The Fifth Monday Writers out of Chaffee County. Are these organizations helpful to authors and in what ways?

What benefits do belonging to writing organizations bring? Do they help to bring readers or do their benefits regard craft and promotion? Do you think size matters?

Chris Barili: I think the primary thing we gain from such organizations is a sense of professionalism. Being around others who write keeps you focused, and reminds you that this is a job, first and foremost. That’s easy to lose track of if you’re locked away in your writing cave day after day.

Like it or not, we do judge books by their covers. The cover is the first thing any reader sees, whether in an advertisement or on the book store shelf, or in the Amazon line up on their site. If the cover needs to grab their attention, or your book will just hang out on the shelf, unread. You may have a killer story, but if you can’t interests readers enough to pick up your book, no one will ever know. As mentioned earlier, not all authors are artists or photographers, (although some are), and designing cover art may be outside of their skill set. Let’s Ask the Authors to see how our panel members handle cover art.

What do you do for cover art? DIY, or hired out, or cookie cutter prefab?  
Jordan Elizabeth: Each press uses an in-house cover artist.  I don’t have a say in who does my covers, although I do get a bit of a say in how they turn out.
Bottled Carol Riggs: I have three books out with traditional publishers, and they provided the cover art. I was able to input a bit of feedback in the details, but not a lot. Luckily, I happened to end up with awesome covers for THE BODY INSTITUTE, THE LYING PLANET, and BOTTLED. I was going to hire someone to do the cover art for my JUNCTION 2020 series, but decided to do them myself, with the advice of a graphic artist friend who gave me Photoshop and design tips; that helped a lot.
KarmaCoverButton copy
Cynthia Vespia: I do all of my own cover art unless I need a specific style. For instance, the figure drawing for the character of Karma on my Silke Butters Superhero Series needed to look like a comic book. That isn’t my style, so I hired an artist to draw the image. But otherwise, I set the layout, fonts, etc. myself. I usually use clipart and manipulate it to what I’m looking for, keeping genre in mind. I also have to say that as a cover designer I can’t stand cookie cutter prefab! Every story is unique and should have a unique cover to match that.
SmotheredChris Barili: For my self-published work, I use Michelle Johnson at Blue Sky Design. She’s amazing, and priced well. Obviously, for Smothered, Winlock used their own artist. For a PNR anthology I’m writing for, we’re all using the same artist, and similar covers, just with slight variations. I have zero visual art skills, so I am slave to those who do.
While for many, we just want to get our books out there and have people read them, you have to go about it as you would any other business if you want to make money. Reviews are wonderful, but they don’t pay the bills. The changes to the publishing industry which came with the digital world have expanded the role of author to emcompass all the duties which fall into the publishing realm. Whether you decide to DIY or hire out these duties, it falls to author, at times, even when you have a publisher. As more and more authors are self publishing, an author needs to be able to do it all. Be sure to catch next week’s segment of Ask the Authors, when our panel members will discuss building an author platform. 

If you have a question you’ve always wanted answered, but it’s not covered in the post on that topic, or if our panel’s answers have stirred new questions within you, pose your query in the comments. Make note if it is directed toward a specific author. Questions will be directed to the general panel unless otherwise specified. Then, in the final post for the series, I will present your questions and the responses I recieved from panel members.

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Book Marketing – What Works?: Conclusions

Book Marketing

Whether an independent author or traditionally published, it seems most of the marketing and promotion falls to the author in today’s literary arena. Even if we love marketing and don’t find it to be an absolutely harrowing task, we are writers, and time spent marketing is time not doing what we love: writing. We don’t want to waste our time and money on ineffective marketing methods. We want to make our marketing techniques pay off big in as little time and expense as possible, so we can spend more time putting words to page.

In this series, we’ve talked to seven authors to learn what methods of book promotion works for them. In Part 1, I talked with Cynthia Vespia, who chose to go independent after having minimal results with small publishers. She does her own cover art and all of her own marketing. She prefers face-to-face marketing events to social media marketing. While she does do social media release parties and book events, she finds them most effective to increase fanbase, rather than book sales. She says it is more difficult to gauge the effectiveness of social media marketing than it is to see the imediate results of conventions and book signings.

Something which I’ve tried which has been somewhat effective, at least in building my platform, if not in actual sales, are the book releases and book events on Facebook. Even though obtaining a spot in one of these events is free, they do require a lot of preparation for a short little spurt (1/2 hour to 1 hour) for your spot. And I think you’ll get better results if you hang out for at least a while, commenting and playing the games to support your fellow authors and creating visibility. If you’d like to check one out, I’m participating in a special Cyber-Monday event, hosted by Sonora Dawn Studios and DL Mullen, and they are still looking for author particiapnts.

In Part 2, Mark Todd and Kym O’Connell Todd , who are small press and independent authors. Kym does their covers and Mark copyedits their books, and they do all of their own marketing. They promote through blogging and have a YouTube channel, where visitors could watch recordings of their research and ghost investigations. They also have a website and author pages on Amazon and Goodreads. They have found blogging, and social media promotion effective ways to get the word out about their books, but they found in person book readings to be less effective and unpredictable. They advocate free promotions and KDP Select.

On the issue of KDP select, I have my doubts, and author Chris Barili is in agreement with me in Part 6. It doesn’t make sense to limit the venues on which you can sell your book. With KDP select, you must sell only on Amazon, exclusively, which excludes many other venues, such as Smashwords, Lulu, Book Baby, etc… And while I say it makes no sense, both of my books are with KDP select right now. I’ve left Last Call there for now, because I have an idea to do something else with that story, and it doesn’t make sense to pull it off KDP select until then. And with Delilah, it’s really up to my publisher, so for now, I don’t have a choice.

Part 3 featured an interview with Jordan Elizabeth, a small press author. Her publisher handles editing and book covers, but she handles the major portion of her marketing. She’s an advocate of social media promotion. She reports good results advertising with BookBub and Fussy Librarian, and also says book signings are effective.

In 2016, author Nicholas C. Rossis in his post, Call to Arms: Year-long survey reveals which book advertiser offers best value for money, says that at the end of 2016, the best buy for your buck as far as advertising discounted books goes, was Amazon Marketing Services, Book Barbarian, and ENT. But he also notes that these trends fluctuate and advertisers that were rated higher in 2015, may have rated lower or not made his list in 2016. And he notes that Amazon Marketing Service rising from the ranks with unfortold speed.

According to Writer’s News’ list of useful book promotion websites , Write Globe, which claims to be the perfect platform for creative individuals, ranked number one. Also mentioned are Writers.Support, BooksOnline.Best, Noble Authors, 79ads.in, Creative Designers and Writers, ShareNews.live, Earn.Promo, in that order. The last one on their list stuck out for me, because it’s free. As a starving writer, free always has a certain appeal. Another site for free advertising that I found was Authors Talk About It. They run your ad for your book in their newsletter for free and also free book cover contests, and featured author interviews. They ran my interview and made me sound good.

Independent author Tim Baker  joined us in Part 4. He started out with small press publishers, but switched over to independent, creating his own brand. He does free promotions and giveaways and finds them to be effective in creating buzz, resulting in future sales. He contracts out editing, formating and cover art, but handles all his own marketing, believing there is no magic formula for selling books but hard work and persistance.

If you are fortunate enough to be able to hire out your non-writing tasks, so you can spend your time tending to the business of writing, there are plenty of sites out there where you can find free-lance service providers. My editing services are offered through The Author Market, and they also offer cover design and book trailers, proofreading, ghostwriting and PA services.

In Part 5, independent author Amy Cecil shared her thoughts on marketing and social media promotion. She hires out her marketing tasks so she has more time to spend on the business of writing. She hires for editing and cover design, has a marketing firm and two PAs. She’s a new found believer in book blog tours, has done a book signing at B&N, and has a street team for creating social media buzz aboout her books. She’s not in favor of free promotions, but loves the exposure that social media has given her.

While Jordan didn’t find review tours to be worth the money it costs of the promotional agencies as her results were minimal. I  know a little about them, and I know authors who swear by them, like Amy Cecil. Many of my author interviews are part of the Full Moon Bites Promotions book blog tours. And I know there are plenty of other promotional services which set up book blog tours out there, but it appears the verdict is still up in the air on this book marketing method.

Part 6 features author Chris Barili, who has published both traditionally and independently. While his traditionally published book requires only minimal marketing from him, the independently published books require him to do it all. He has found social media marketing, free promotions and KDP select to be ineffective. What works for him is hard work and persistance.

In Part 7, I interviewed DeAnna Knippling, an independent author who has also developed her own brand and publishing label. She uses an Advance Reader Copy list and newsletters, free promotions,  and tries to attract super-readers on Goodreads, testifying to the power of reviews. (Of free promos Knippling says that if it doesn’t generate new sales, it at least generates new readers and that’s worth the cost.)

There is no doubt that in today’s book market, in the world of digital marketing, book reviews are where it’s at. But, honest reviews aren’t always easy to come by.  YA author Jordan Elizabeth used her street team for the task of finding reviewers, with mixed results, and DeAnna Knippling has done free promotions on sites like Instafreebie. Free ARCs don’t always garauntee the review. That’s one of the reasons I do honest book reviews here on Writing to be Read, to help promote other authors and their work.

Everybody talks about branding and how you have to have a brand, but it looks to me like branding is something that just sort of happens in many cases, such as my red quill and ink, which began as a social media avatar and has become my logo. In others cases, like DeAnna Knippling and Tim Baker, it’s a purposeful, but still comes almost naturally.

Overall, it seems that different methods are effective for different authors, and in different ways. While social media and free promotions may or may not produce new book sales, it does create buzz, which results in future sales, at least in theory. Although Mark and Kym don’t place a lot of value on social media promotion, Cynthia Vespia, Jordan Elizabeth, Amy Cecil and DeAnna Knippling find it an effective way to build a fan base and get reviews. It seems like face-to-face promotional encounters such as book signings and conferences are a pretty effective way to get your book out there, and free promos pay off if you look at other measures of effectiveness besides book sales. Tim Baker and Chris Barili both put their faith in hard work and persistance, regardless of the marketing methods you chose.

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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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Book Marketing – What Works? (Part 5): Interview with Romance Author Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil and Books

So far in this Book Marketing – What Works? series we’ve heard about: social media marketing vs. face-to-face marketing methods form dark fantasy author, Cynthia Vespia in Part 1; digital marketing strategies from co-authors Mark Todd and Kym O’Connell Todd in Part 2; social media marketing and street teams for reviews from YA author Jordan Elizabeth in Part 3; and branding and free promotions from author Tim Baker in Part 4.

Today, I’m pleased to bring you a chat with contemporary and historical romance author Amy Cecil, who is a self-published author, who uses book blog tours and street teams to promote her work. I met Amy when I interviewed her for her book blog tour through Full Moon Bites Promotions for the release of the second book in her Knights of Silence MC series, Ice on Fire. So, without further ado, please welcome Amy Cecil.

Kaye: In addition to your Knights of Silence MC contemporary romance series, you write historical romance. Would you like to talk about those books a little?

Amy: Of course I would!  I have two historical romance novels published that are variations of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.  You know, the kind of stories that you always wonder, “what if?”  Well I did and I decided to create my own “what if” story in Jane Austen’s world.  I am currently working on a third historical romance, also a Jane Austen variation, titled On Stranger Prides.

Kaye: What made you decide self-publish?

Amy: At first, I really didn’t have a choice.  The publishing companies that I originally contacted were not interested or were not taking new authors at that time.  I didn’t know that self-publishing was an option until I did some research.  Self-publishing was the only chance I had to get my stories out there.  I have no complaints with the self-publishing world, but I do believe it requires a lot more work on the part of the author.

Kaye: How much non-writing work, (marketing & promotion, illustrations & book covers, etc…), do you do yourself for your books?

Amy: Originally, I did everything myself.  But as I got savvier, I have since hired a professional editor and cover designer both with Creative Digital Studios. And marketing, well, I never did anything in the early days.  I never realized how important it was until I decided to hire a PA.

Kaye: How much work do you contract out? Book Covers? Editing? Marketing? Etc…?

Amy: Creative Digital Studios does all my promotional materials, however I may do a teaser or two myself.  My two PA’s Alicia Freeman and Monica Diane do all my marketing and promoting.  I do a little myself when I am not trying to meet writing deadlines.

Kaye: How do you feel about the marketing tasks you have to do? Do you embrace them or loath them? Why?

Amy: That’s a trick question.  LOL… I’m just kidding.  Sometimes I am all excited about doing some marketing of my books, other times not so much.  It really all depends on my mood and what else I have to do.

Kaye: You and I met through Full Moon Bites Promotions, when they hosted your book blog tour for Ice on Fire. For that tour I did a review of your book and we did an author interview. Is that the first book blog tour you’ve done? What kind of results did you see from it? Was there a rise in sales? Do you feel it was a successful marketing venture?

Amy: It was the first blog tour I have ever done – and I assure you, I will not release another book again without one.  I really can’t say that I saw a rise in sales, but what I did see was my new release ALL OVER SOCIAL MEDIA!  And if I saw it, then I am sure millions of others saw it.  So, yes, I feel it was completely successful.

Kaye: You recently did your first book signing at Barnes & Noble. How did that go? How successful do you feel that was, as a marketing strategy?

Amy: That was freaking awesome!  For an indie author like myself to actually get into a major bookstore is huge!  I met a lot of great people that day, including the B&N staff.  On the marketing end, I believe it was very successful.  It’s definitely opened up a lot of doors for me.

Kaye: You have a street team who help you promote your work, Amy’s Amazing Street Girls. Can you talk a little about what your street team does and how you build a street team?

Amy: I can definitely talk about my street team, but a little – not so much!  My street team is amazing!!  I didn’t realize when we named it Amy’s Amazing Street Girls, that I would continually use the word “amazing” to describe them.

This team is my safe zone.  I go to my team when I need someone to bounce ideas off or to get me through a rough writing patch.  When I need something shared or a contest voted on I can always count on my team.  I host several giveaways in my team and we even have a weekly SWAG giveaway that we do.  They help me promote my books everyday.

In return, we (my PA’s and I) entertain them.  There is activity in this group every single day.  Some days are themed others are not, but we have a lot of fun with whatever we happen to be doing on that particular day. We currently have over 470 members and we add new members every day.  Just to show how much I love my street team, my latest release, Ice on Fire is dedicated to them.

Kaye: You have a P.A. who helps promote your work, too. How much of a help in your marketing is this?

Amy: No, I don’t have a PA – I have two, Alicia Freeman and Monica Diane.  These ladies are my biggest support in all aspects of writing.  They promote my stuff, they run my street team, they do Author Takeover Events – they do everything.  I would be lost with them and still don’t know how I survived as an author before them.

Kaye: Do you pay your P.A.s or your street team?

Amy: I do pay my pa’s, but not members of the street team.

Kaye: So what is involved in building a street team?

Amy: I believe that you need to constantly be recruiting new members – keep them engaged daily and offer lots of perks for them to be a member of the team.  My PA’s have worked really hard in building the team and I am just along for the ride.  LOL.

Kaye: You promote a lot on social media, including book release parties and the like. How effective do you find social media marketing to be? Do you feel they increase your sales or are the biggest benefits in gaining new followers?

Amy: I’m not really sure if social media has increased my sales, as I believe people are buying books like they used to.  Indie authors have got them self in rut by giving away free books that I believe a lot of people on social media are looking for the freebie. But on the flip side of that, social media has definitely given me exposure. To me, the exposure outweighs the sales because I am a firm believer that eventually that exposure will lead to more sales.

Kaye: What other marketing strategies have you used?

Amy: I have done Facebook, Goodreads and Amazon ads and giveaways.  I have also done advertising in Inks and Scratches magazine and have attended several signing events.

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

Amy: Me.  I know that sounds odd, but I find that I sell more books if I am physically in front of the person telling them about my book.  I have done a lot of signings this year and that face-to-face contact between me and the reader makes a huge difference.

Kaye: What advice would you give to new authors trying to get their work out there?

Amy: Don’t be afraid to spend some money.  First and foremost hire a good cover designer and editor.  It is so worth it in the end.  And definitely hire a PA!  Their rates are reasonable and their value is priceless!

Thank you so much Kaye Lynne!

No thank you Amy, for joining us on Writing to be Read, not once, but twice. And thanks for sharing some of your marketing experiences with us. If you’d like to learn more about Amy or her books, visit her Amazon Author Page, her Goodreads Author Page, or her website.

Don’t miss next week, when my guest will be hybrid author, Chris Barili in Part 6 of the Book Marketing – What Works? series. If you don’t know what a hybrid author is, you’ll have to check back in to find out.

 

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Book Marketing – What Works? (Part 4): Interview with author Tim Baker

Blindogg Books

So far, in this Book Marketing – What Works? series, we’ve heard from speculative fiction author Cynthia Vespia in Part 1, who does all of her own marketing; taken a look at Mark Todd and Kym O’Connell Todd’s online marketing strategies in Part 2; and glimpsed the value of paid advertising with YA author Jordan Elizabeth in Part 3, whose street team was pivotal in getting reviews for her books. This week, we’ll take a look at branding with an author who has developed a brand of his own for his books, Tim Baker.

Tim and I have been acquainted for several years now. He’s a talented writer, whose books are fun and entertaining. I’ve reviewed most of his books at one time or another: Water Hazard, No Good Deed, Backseat to Justice, Full Circle, Pump It Up, Living the Dream, Eyewitness Blues, and Unfinished BusinessTim also weighed in on my Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing series, where he heralded the advantages of self-publishing. Today he’ll talk a little about branding and about the effectiveness of free promotions.

Kaye: How long have you been writing and publishing your own books?

Tim: My first seven books were published by small press publishers. I decided to publish under my own brand (Blindogg Books) with the release of Full Circle in 2015. Since then I have released one other novel (Blood in the Water) and a collection of short stories (Path of a Bullet).

Kaye: You talk about creating your own brand. Of course, I knew about BlindoggBooks, but we hear about brands all the time. Can you elaborate and explain what it takes to create a brand, and what the advantages are with having your own brand?

Tim: I doubt that the way I created my brand is textbook, but here it is…

At some point between my first and second novel I thought it would be a good idea to have a website. My first attempt was rudimentary at best, but it served the purpose.

While creating it I decided I didn’t want to use my name as the headline. Several years earlier I had doodled an image of a dog wearing dark glasses (a blind dog – more on that story can be found here – https://blindoggbooks.wordpress.com/2012/08/14/is-your-dog-really-blind/ ). So from that point forward Blindogg Books became my brand name…the next step was getting it out there.

I put the doodle on everything…my website, my facebook page all of my social media accounts, book marks, and all sorts of paraphernalia which I would give away at signings and anywhere else I could.

Before long my blind dog was very popular and people recognized it – which I think is the desired result – right?!

As far as advantages, I guess I subconsciously followed the lead of many big name companies who have a recognizable logo. People may not always remember my name, but they always remember the blind dog!

As I’ve said before, my marketing tactics are strictly “learn as I go” – and so far it’s working for me, so I’ll just keep plugging along. I tweek things here and there, but I don’t see myself getting rid of my brand name.

Kaye: What made you decide to go with self-publishing?

Tim: There were two main reasons: Cost and Control.

Using a small press publisher is not free…and it’s usually not cheap. The cost of buying a batch of ISBNs and paying somebody to format the book for kindle and paperback saves me hundreds of dollars with each release.

Self publishing (I actually prefer the term independent publishing) also allows me to have much more control over when my book is released, etc.

Kaye: How many books have you published to date?

Tim: Nobody told me there would be math in this interview!!

So far I have published nine novels, one collection of short stories and two novellas. My tenth novel (24 Minutes) is scheduled to be released in the fall of 2017.

Kaye: What is the biggest challenge of being a writer today?

Tim: This is a tricky question, because it will vary from writer to writer…JK Rowlings’ biggest challenge is probably how to spend her money, while mine is trying to find enough time to write, publish and market my books while working a full time job and trying to have a social life.

Kaye: You’ve come up with some great titles. How do you decide the titles for your books? Where does the title come in the process for you?

Tim: I try to pick a title that does a few things at once…I want it to intrigue the potential reader (very important), I want it to fit the story without giving too much away, and I want it to be catchy. It isn’t always easy, and I usually go through more than one idea. The final title will usually come to me when I’m nearly done with the first draft – although there have been a couple of books where I had the title before I started writing (Full Circle and Backseat to Justice).

Kaye: Do you do any kind of free promotions, where you offer your books for free? If so, how does that work for you?

Tim: Yes. I often offer titles for free download (usually around the release of a new title in order to stimulate a little buzz for the new one) and they always work extremely well. I do giveaways on Goodreads, which also helps to get my name out there. I also give away paperbacks quite frequently. For the amount of money a paperback costs me (usually around $4) I find it’s highly effective to give one to a new reader…it almost always leads them to purchase other titles. We all know the value of word-of-mouth advertising, and giving somebody a free book (which, hopefully, they will enjoy) is a great way to get some. Of course it is much easier for me to give books away now that I have 13 titles under my belt. Back in the day, when I only had two or three, I didn’t feel as though it was as beneficial since I had to give away one book in order to get people to (possibly) buy the other two.

Kaye: Do you participate in KDP Select on Amazon? Do you feel this program is conducive to selling books?

Tim: Yes, I do. As to whether it is conducive to selling books, I really don’t know. KDP allows you to do giveaways, so in that respect the answer would be yes. However, once you sign on to KDP you agree not to sell your books on any other venues (other than live book signings and such) which is somewhat counterproductive as far as selling a larger quantity of books. In all honesty, even though I’ve been selling books for nearly ten years, I still don’t know what works best. If I did I’d have a yacht by now!

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

Tim: I don’t think there is one method or specific act that works best…I believe the best marketing tactic is to be consistent, relentless and tenacious. Marketing (to me) isn’t a part time job – it’s a non-stop effort. I often tell people that for every hour I spend writing, I usually put in three or four marketing. This could involve anything from social media posts to handing out bookmarks. I’ve tried a thousand different things and it isn’t one or two of them that made a difference, it was the continual act of doing it.

Kaye: How much work do you contract out? Book Covers? Editing? Marketing? Etc…?

Tim: I contract editing, formatting and cover art. Marketing I do myself, because I have yet to find a so-called marketing expert who will either charge me based on the level of success of their campaign (e.g. work on commission) or give me some sort of a guarantee before I pay them. If you send me an email stating you are the latest and greatest book marketer – I think you ought to back it up, rather than back-pedal with inane statements like “Well, there are no guarantees in marketing.”

Kaye: What do you do for cover art? DIY, or hired out, or cookie cutter prefab?

Tim: I always contract it out, and for the most part I use one particular artist (I call her my cover girl!) I will gladly give her contact info to anybody interested.

Kaye: If writing suddenly made you rich and famous, what would you do?

Tim: I would;

  1. Quit my day job
  2. Buy a yacht
  3. Write more books
  4. Donate large sums of money to organizations that support human rights and animal rights
  5. Hire the surviving members of Led Zeppelin to play at my next birthday party.

(in that order!)

Kaye: What is the one thing in your writing career that is the most unusual or unique thing you’ve done so far?

Tim: Interesting question…After careful consideration I’d have to say that the most unusual thing I’ve done as a writer happened when I was writing my sixth novel, Unfinished Business. Research is part of an author’s life, to varying degrees, and my research for Unfinished Business was a bit unusual. The book is about a woman named Meg, a mortician who somehow inherits the task of carrying out the last thoughts of the bodies she embalms. In order to make the book as true to life as possible I interviewed a mortician friend of mine (whose name also happens to be Meg – coincidence? You decide!). So for over three hours I asked questions and learned more than I ever thought I would want to know about the preparation of corpses for funerals, and the life of a mortician.

I’d call that unusual and unique!

I want to thank Tim for joining us today to share his experiences and marketing advice. If  you’d like to know more about Tim Baker or his books, check out his blindoggbooks blog, or visit his website, or his Goodreads author page. You can also find him on his Facebook Fan Page or Twitter: @blindoggbooks. Watch for my review of Tim’s latest book, 24 Minutes, which will be out the end of October or early November.

I hope you’ll join us next week, when we talk with romance author Amy Cecil, who launches her marketing strategies on social media and uses a P.A. and a street team in Part 5 of Book Marketing – What Works?.

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Book Marketing – What Works? (Part 3): Interview with YA author Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Elizabeth and Books

In Part 1 of Book Marketing – What Works? we heard from self-published author, Cynthia Vespia, and in Part 2, we met traditionally published co-authors Mark Todd and Kym O’Connell Todd, to get a glimpse into their marketing strategies. While Vespia preferred face-to-face marketing strategies such as conferences and book signings, the Todds use Internet marketing such as websites, blogging and social media. Today, we’ll talk with an author who utilizes paid advertising via the Internet.

Small presses may take some of the publishing duties away from the author, such as cover art, and of course, the actual publication of your book, but even then, a lot of the marketing and promotion may fall upon the author. Therefore, traditionally published authors are faced with the same challenges of getting their books out there where readers can find them as independently published authors are.

I’m pleased to welcome Jordan Elizabeth to Writing to be Read today. Jordan is a talented young adult author, who is published with a smaller independent press. I have reviewed many of her books and anthologies where her short fiction has appeared, and she’s weighed on publishing, with an interview in my ten part series, Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing. Although she may not have as much control over the publishing  details, she maintains the brunt of the responsibility for the marketing of her books.

Kaye: Would you share the story of your own publishing journey?

Jordan: I always knew I wanted to write.  I had written a ton of stories by high school (none of which will ever see the light of day).  I finally wrote my first “real” manuscript sometimes around 12th grade and started sending it to publishers.  They rejected me right away.  After some research, I understood you need an agent to get your foot in the door.  I queried over 4,000 agents before I landed mine with COGLING.

Kaye: What is the strangest inspiration for a story you’ve ever had?

Jordan: I get most of my ideas from dreams, but I would say the strangest inspiration was for VICTORIAN.  I volunteered at Fort Stanwix and worked for the Victorian Leisure Fair, both in Rome, NY.  The positions involved dressing in costumes and explaining history to visitors, while having fun.  I had the best adventures in Rome!

Kaye: Have you ever had places that you travel to end up in your books?

Jordan: Yes!  I love to travel, and we used to do 3-4 vacations a year before I had my baby.  The places I go to especially come out in my fantasy novels. The homes in COGLING were based on a lot of historic sites and tour houses, such as President Buchannan’s house in Pennsylvania.

Kaye: Do you participate in KDP Select on Amazon? Do you feel this program is conducive to selling books?

Jordan: All of my published novels except for one are on Kindle Unlimited.  It depends on the publisher’s rules, so I don’t have a say if they are or aren’t.  I do find it conducive, as someone who might not want to buy my ebook has the freedom to borrow it for “free.”  I’ve heard from quite a few people that they used Kindle Unlimited to read something I wrote.

Kaye: Do you use social media to promote your books? Which social media is your favorite for promotion and why?

Jordan: I use Facebook and Twitter.  In the past, I’ve found Facebook to be the best, but the world seems to be moving away from that.  I’ve had bad luck with my past few Facebook ads.  I’m going to try to utilize Twitter more and see how that goes.

Kaye: What type of marketing strategies have you tried with your books? What worked and what didn’t?

Jordan: I post on Facebook and Twitter, aim for one book signing a month, and take out ads.  The ad in BookBub was amazing.  I’ve also had good luck taking an ad out in Fussy Librarian.  The more reviews you have, the more people are excited to read your book, so I am always open to giving a blogger a book in exchange for an honest review.  That hasn’t always worked out in the past, as some bloggers will take a book and never read it.  Book review tours have never worked for me.  I’ve paid for multiple companies to send out my books to x-amount of reviewers.  Each time, I’ve only gotten a handful of reviews.  It hasn’t been worth the price.

Kaye: You have publishers for your books. How much non-writing work, (marketing & promotion, illustrations & book covers, etc…), do you do yourself?

Jordan: The publishers all take care of editing and book covers.  I do about 85% of my own marketing.  It takes a lot of time and effort, but I enjoy it.  It gets my face out there and helps me connect with my readers.

Kaye: You and I made a connection through a member of your street team, when I reviewed Escape From Witchwood Hollow, and I’ve been reviewing your books ever since. Could you explain what your street team does for you? How do you go about building a street team?

Jordan: My street team has actually disbanded, but I did have a street team for many years.  It started when a few girls told me they loved my books and asked me about the process.  When I told them how I’d gotten published and all the time spent on marketing, they asked if they could help out.  Of course!  They contacted reviewers for me to see if anyone would like to read one of my books in exchange for an honest review.  I had an awesome group of supporters and we had fun brainstorming new marketing ideas.

One girl dropped out of the street team to concentrate on going back to college and the other two started getting hate mail from reviewers because they felt that I should be the one contacting, not them.  I personally don’t see anything wrong with having someone else contact a blogger on your behalf, but I also see where it can become tricky.  You don’t always know if the personal contacting you is legitimate.

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

Jordan: Taking out ads and book signings.  In those cases, I know how many I sell.  I don’t know why people who buy my books on a day-to-day basis bought them.  Did someone tell them about the book?  Did they see it on Facebook?  At least when I see a jump in sales on the day an ad runs, I know it is because of the ad.

Kaye: How much work do you contract out? Book Covers? Editing? Marketing? Etc…?

Jordan: I don’t contract anything out.  Ah, if only I had that luxury!

Kaye: What kind of Chinese food do you order all the time?

Jordan: Peanut noodles are my favorite.  Oh, and Chinese donuts.  I eat the entire container in one sitting unless my husband grabs on first.

Kaye: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Jordan: Don’t give up, because you need to write for yourself.  Even if publishers aren’t biting, write because you love it.  Also, make sure to understand marketing is going to fall on you.  I was surprised and a little taken aback at first.  Authors need to realize that publishers have 100s of books out there.  They can’t donate 100% of their time on marketing your book.  You need to do your share of the legwork too.

I want to thank Jordan for joining us today and sharing her marketing experience with us. You can check out my reviews of Jordan’s books and anthologies in which her work appears by following the links below.

Reviews of Jordan Elizabeth Books:

Escape From Witchwood Hollow

Cogling

Treasure Darkly

Wicked Treasure

Victorian

The Goat Children

The Path to Old Talbot

Riders & Runners

Kistishi Island

Reviews of Short Story Collections from Curiosity Quills Press Featuring Jordan Elizabeth’s Short Fiction:

Chronology

Under A Brass Moon

Darkscapes

Be sure to check back next week for Part 4 of Book Marketing – What Works?, where I’ll interview a veteran author that has traveled both the traditional and self-publishing routes and will share what his learned about marketing after writing books for ten years, author Tim Baker. Don’t miss it!

 

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