Book Promotion; The importance of thinking outside the box

I know I keep harping on about promoting and getting book sales, but unless you’re one of those lucky few who release a few novels and then see sales sky-rocket, you’re like me and have to contend with the Amazon Beige Bar of Shame (BBOS) for many weeks and only a trickle of customers. I’ve tried advertising on Goodreads and doing a LibraryThing giveaway, but to no avail (though I have had a few good reviews from the latter option). I’ve tried posting, not spamming, on forums, but haven’t seen any direct sales as a result. I’ve used Twitter to my advantage and have found a handful of new customers here, and word of mouth (mostly by my sister) has got me the majority of my sales.

There was a nice thread on Kindle Boards called ‘Places to Promote Your Book‘ and I took advantage of some the listed options to sign up at Novelscribe, and place very cheap promotions at YourBookAuthors.com and BestIndieBooks.com. When I say cheap, I mean it, and I think I only paid around $15 in total for both the features – it’s not exactly going to break the bank. Nor is it going to get huge exposure, but only a few extra eyes seeing my work could be beneficial.

I’ve increasingly been thinking about how important it is to think outside the box and create a stir, a buzz. Placing a banner on a high traffic website is all well and good, but how many people actually click that link and then buy a book? Branding strategists and advertisers keep banging on about how important engaging with customers is, isn’t it about time us indie authors followed suit? Engaging with readers and potential fans isn’t just about tweeting replies and creating a fan pages though. It’s about really trying something new and innovative to capture people’s attention.

I’ve had a couple of ideas over the past few weeks for marketing ploys which could be fun for people to take part in and could increase book sales. When it comes to thinking outside the box, I think it’s best to think global, to think all conquering, to think of ways to go viral on the internet and become a sensation. I doubt that either of my ideas will do this, but they might work in creating more of a buzz than a simple website banner or Goodreads advert.

Exclusive Content

Rewarding readers and luring new customers in can be done with providing a worm on the end of that newsletter fishing hook. I’ve seen many people talking about getting subscribers onto their newsletters by offering free books and giveaways. However, I’ve also seen authors saying that as soon as their giveaway is over, people un-subscribe, defeating the object of the exercise.

To counter this, I’ve developed a little plan for creating ongoing exclusive content only for newsletter subscribers. I was playing Mass Effect the other day, collecting codex’s as I went, and I suddenly thought ‘I could offer codex’s for my Inside Evil series.‘ The codex system is basically like an encyclopedia, and in Mass Effect you collect titbits of information relating to characters, places, weaponry, lore, as you journey through the game. This helps you become more involved in gameplay and really creates a gripping universe to explore.

Being the complete nerd that I am, I already have a lot of notes on characters, hotspots, creatures etc that appear in the Inside Evil series, some of which is never even mentioned in the book. So, I’m currently developing my own series of codex’s that will be released on a monthly basis to newsletter subscribers. These will give tasty extra information for fans to enjoy, and for die hard fans, they’ll be downloadable so that the image codex’s can be kept and collected. I’ve started making some mock ups and have an artist doing some provisional sketches for each entry.

Whilst this content might only appeal to the nerdiest of nerds who read my books, it does offer an incentive to stay on a newsletter list rather than taking the one free goodie on offer before un-subscribing.

Paperback Treasure Hunt

I haven’t yet delved into the realms of paperbacks, but the time is drawing near as several people I know have asked if my work is available as an actual book. In Book Three of Inside Evil several famous spots from London and other cities will appear in the book and this got me thinking, ‘What if I hid a copy of the books at each of those locations for readers to find?‘.

My thinking is that copies of Inside Evil, The Tower of Souls and the new book would be left in paperback form at certain locations. They’d be sealed in a bag with instructions guiding people to take the book home, enjoy the read, name, date and location stamp it in the front cover, and then either return it to where they found it, or pass it on to a new reader. Or they could simply leave it somewhere for someone else to find. Over time, names and dates would fill up the covers and hopefully the books would move around the country, even the continents. Of course, some would get thrown out, some would end up on people’s dusty shelves, but I’m quite intrigued as to what could happen. It’d be like sending off a note in a bottle, or letting go off a helium filled balloon with a tag tied around its string.

Both of these ideas are still in development and I’m planning how they could be done to achieve the maximum buzz. However, I do believe that thinking outside the box is the best way to get your marketing plan noticed, and if you’re going to do something, then you may as well think big.

What are your promotional plans? Had any great ideas outside the norm to shift books?

The Tower of Souls is here

The Tower of Souls has landed! After six months in the making – less actually, because I didn’t actually start writing it until about May, 2012 – the sequel to Inside Evil is now available at Amazon and Smashwords, and will soon be available at iBooks, Sony, Kobo, B&N etc via the Smashwords distribution network. I’m really happy with this sequel and feel that it’s a great new story for the series, adding to the world that was already created in the first book, and throwing in some new elements which I hope readers will be eager to sink their teeth into. Whilst Inside Evil was very much a mystery paranormal, The Tower of Souls opens up the new fantasy realm of Gathin and is probably best considered a contemporary fantasy novel. OK, so switching genres may not be the best idea, but as I mentioned in my previous post, indie authors can pretty do as we please – we just might not make all our readers happy!

You may have also noticed a new page appearing in the top bar –  “Exclusive Content“. Whilst still in the works, those who have signed up to the newsletter will soon be able to access exclusive character biographies, encyclopaedic entries for Inside Evil lore, objects, creatures and places, in addition to information as to how I developed certain aspects of the books. Newsletter subscribers will be able to access this content with a password and will be updated as new items become available. More coming soon.

In the meantime, pick up your copy of The Tower of Souls now if you want to continue Roberta and her friend’s stories. And, if you haven’t yet read Inside Evil, there’s a nice little price drop and you can now pick up the first in the series for just $2.99

Defining genre for indie authors

There was once a time when the big six practically ruled the literary world, making authors famous, rejecting great books on a flippant whim and creating their own specific genres that writers had to adhere to if they wanted even the slightest hope of publication. I’ve heard many stories of authors who’ve had to significantly alter novels or remove entire story threads so as to appease the literary powers that be. Then, Amazon said ‘hang on, lets enable authors to publish their own books and take a cut‘. The self publishing indie world was born, free of restrictions, enabling authors to write what they wanted with no compromise. However, in the sudden rush of this literary bandwagon it seems that both Amazon and many readers have failed to keep up with the changing genres, often making it very difficult to place your book into the right category.

It seems that many good indie authors, authors who have written amazing novels and are doing well, as still finding difficulties with defining their genre. Numerous problems seem to be rife with romantic books in particular; even if your entire 400 page novel is bursting with romanticism, if the lovers don’t end up together, then your book is not romance and you will feel the wrath of many a reader. Readers are the indie author’s life force, offering the means to keep writing and share their work. But, there can often be a very stringent unsaid code of conduct to write by if you want to please the majority. Of course, there are readers who like the break from the mould, the chance to read something a little different, something refreshingly new, but in altering the traditional format, you may find yourself risking a backlash.

I’ve had particular problems defining Inside Evil myself. There are fantasy and paranormal elements scattered throughout the book, but many readers of this popular genre are looking for werewolves, vampires and fairies, of which NONE appear in my tale. Instead, a mystical tome offers intrigue, an evil curse lurks awaiting another victim, another realm’s ‘gatekeepers’ follow ancient customs to keep demons at bay. I sail perilously close to mentioning spells and some characters do entertain supernatural beliefs, but for a reader wanting a witchcraft read, once again Inside Evil does not quite fit the bill. Parallel worlds are often used in science fiction, but again, though there is another realm in Inside Evil, it is certainly not one that lives in the sci-fi genre. Then, there is the horror and occult aspect of the book which, though not apparent in full visceral force, does provide an underlying tone. But, for those wanting full throttle horror, once again, Inside Evil may not be the right genre. It seems that I’ve written a novel which fits into many, yet no traditional genres. Though the eclectic cast of characters offer a unique and page turning story, traditional readers may remain unsure.

Indie publishing is a godsend for people like myself who want to share their work with readers without having to deal with creative oppression. However, even Amazon itself is has so few categories within their Kindle listings that they seem tied to the very stereotypical genres that have been forced into society by traditional publishers. Whilst the traditional author might have to write a, b and c to create a perfect thriller, the indie author might take out b altogether and throw in a couple of wayward z’s to the mix. Just to liven things up a bit. Just to refresh the genre and offer something unique. But, it comes with the risk that you may divide readers, causing outrage from traditionalists and clamouring fans from modernists.

There are many indie authors whose works easily falls into a specific genre, making their lives far easier. However, for many, like myself, who have forgone the carefully constructed genres of the past, the world may be our oyster, we just have to work a little harder to try and define ourselves. Meanwhile, readers will remain vital in helping to break the traditional restrictions so that authors feel free to offer something new. In the meantime, I’ll keep trying new genres for Inside Evil and taking feedback from readers to help discover its best suited category, but until then, it seems that many will either love, or hate, novels which break the norm.

Increasing Smashwords success

When I first came into self-publishing, I didn’t even know about KDP Select. I find myself feeling fortunate about this because whilst many authors noted a lot of success at the beginning of Amazon’s exclusive deal, I’ve read quite a lot of material lately that has suggested that the perks of the arrangement are beginning to wane. Instead, I uploaded to KDP and Smashwords, got into the latter’s premium catalogue and pushed Inside Evil onto the shelves of distributors like Apple, Sony and Barnes & Noble.

There are a number advantages of going with Smashwords, including that they issue payment when you have a minimum of $10 through Paypal, rather than waiting for a minimum $100 cheque balance for foreign publishers (or aliens as America likes to call us) that Amazon requires. Likewise, because I’m based outside the US, I can’t access B&N’s own PubIt, so have to utilise Smashwords to get on their shelves. I don’t own a Mac, so directly uploaded to Apple’s iBooks is impossible, and though Kobo have just released their own publishing tool, I’m yet to use it.

Whilst I’ve used Smashwords to offer codes for freebies, I had NO actual sales from the website itself. I thought it was going to take years for me to ever get the $10 minimum, and with no distributor sales either I was beginning to think it was a lost cause. That was until this month, however, when BAM, I had four B&N and three Apple sales. OK, these numbers aren’t high, but I’m in self-publishing infancy, am doing no advertising for those platforms and am not selling huge amounts on Amazon either. In fact, for July, with those seven distributor sales, I actually made more at Smashwords than at Amazon.

Now, I’m finally happy that I’m utilising Smashwords to distribute Inside Evil across its channels, and for the first time, a few sales seem to be appearing. After the first few months of practically selling nothing, sales are actually creeping up each month; a welcome trend. Do you use Smashwords? Have you noted growing sales at distributors?

How to get 1,000 Ebook sales

How to get 1,000 Ebook sales? That’s a question I often ask myself. Look around the various blogs about self publication, and it seems to suggest that once you’ve hit around 1,000 sales on Amazon, the website’s algorithms will take over and help to make your work more visible. Note that this isn’t total sales, but sales for each title. While, of course, selling more of one title is likely to help sell other works too, pushing up your overall sales figures, it is 1,000 per book that you’re aiming for.

This can be an astronomical figure to reach, especially if you’re only selling tens of books per month. Inside Evil was published in March and I’ve not yet cleared the 100 sales barrier. Interestingly, in my latest giveaway on Elle Casey’s blog, Inside Evil was one of the most sought after titles, so the book itself seems to be in demand and attracting attention. It just doesn’t get noticed by people browsing on Amazon. And, without a lot of luck, I’m warning you, growing to 1,000 sales will be hard work.

But, how can you achieve this feat? How can you reach that target? I’m not entirely sure myself, having not gained those dizzying sales heights yet. There are variety of methods that I’ve come across, and some may work for you, others may not. Here’s some of my findings.

Forums

Some people advocate joining lots of forums, putting your book in your signature and then talking, continuously, about yourself and your work. This doesn’t work and WILL NOT SELL ebooks. You’ll quickly get a spam notification and be ejected from the boards.

However, there are some forums that you might be persuaded to join, such as Kindleboards, the official Kindle forums at Amazon and the Kindle Users Forum. Whilst you’ll get all manner of help and tips at these places, I wouldn’t look for a lot of sales here. Generally, these boards are occupied by people like you; authors wanting to find how to sell ebooks and unlikely buyers.

LibraryThing & Goodreads

My use of LibraryThing and Goodreads has been haphazard at best, largely due to the fact that I hate both website’s interfaces and I find joining in conversations extremely confusing. LibraryThing is great for doing giveaway’s, but though I’ve noted a few reviews trickling through, these haven’t turned into sales. Meanwhile, though I’ve had a very few ‘adds’ on Goodreads which may have possibly led to a miniscule number of sales, my Goodreads ad campaign was a complete failure and I didn’t make one sale from the investment.

Word of Mouth

This is a very obvious way of selling, but if you don’t tell anyone about your book, then how can you expect sales. Word of mouth is vital for sales. Tell friends and family about your book. When you go to parties and meet new people who ask what you do for a career, tell them about your writing and mention your novel’s name..who knows they might just go home and download it. Put a link to Amazon in the signature of your email so when you’re emailing people, you have an unobtrusive marketing ploy ready to go. This has been my best sales tactic to date, helping to push Inside Evil higher in the Amazon charts and therefore being more noticeable.

Twitter

Some people swear by it, others don’t, but I have found that Twitter has got me sales. I have recently opened a new Twitter account devoted to only my writing. Whilst I have a personal account with over 1,000 followers, I tend to have verbal diarrhoea on that feed, and whilst those 1,000 followers don’t care about me talking non-stop about the Olympics or saying slightly rude things when I’ve had a glass of wine too many, I really don’t want my main group of readers and authors bombarded with this. Of course, many may want to, so it’s worth tweeting that you have another account, but to keep all my professional and book related stuff in one place, I now use GWakelingWriter.

One of the good things about Twitter is that you can easily interact with readers. If someone tells you they’ve bought your book, thank them, ask them for feedback. RT their comments if they’re positive reviews. Use Sample Sunday (a writer’s RT group which helps spread book samples on, you’ve guessed it, Sunday’s) to reach a larger audience. Use Writer Wednesday to follow and RT other writers. Most of all, ensure that the majority of your tweets are personal, RTs or links to informative articles rather than constantly links to your own work. This will turn people off immediately, and your Twitter account will never get off the ground.

1,000 ebooks is a hard task…

Selling ebooks is no easy task, and shifting these first 1,000 ebooks is monumentally difficult. I read blogs all the time offering advice on how to get sales, with each and every post saying, ‘once you’ve reached 1,000 sales you can use X, X and X to get increased earnings,’ but what about the climb to 1,000? What about the depressing screen of Amazon’s Beige Bar of Shame when it’s staring at you mid month because you’re yet to have  a sale? What about selling five or 10 copies a month and realising that it’ll take you years to reach that elusive 1,000?

I’ve used the above processes to get a few sales here and there, but nothing that has finally swept me along at pace. I’ll soon be releasing a new book, The Tower of Souls, and I’m hoping that it’ll attract more people to the series. However, for the meantime, it’s the slow plod along. What do you use to try and increase sales? Found any tactics that worked? I’d love to discover new areas that I haven’t tried…and we can all look forward to pushing our sales and cracking that 1,000.

The importance of choosing the right book reviewers

Getting readers to review your books on their blogs is a great way of spreading the word. I have to admit that I haven’t seen a huge spike in sales after reviews are released, but it is a good way to get your title’s into readers hands. This is especially true if you have a number of titles because even if none of the book review readers buy your novel, perhaps the book reviewer themselves will come back for more.

There are huge lists of book reviewers to be found on the web. A great place to start is the Indie Book Reviewer, a place where you can find hundreds of eager readers who want to take your novel and blog about it. As you go through the listings you’ll discover that many people are simply swamped with books and cannot take on more reads, resulting in your pool of possible reviewers shrinking considerably. This can cause you to simply contact everyone that is open to taking on books. However, this may not work to your advantage; a fact that I found out this morning.

There are always going to be people who don’t like your books. Fair enough. I don’t like every book that I read either. However, it is important to try and choose reviewers who have a great looking blog, lots of followers and who are actually interested in the genre AND style that you’ve written in.

This morning I had a three star review from a reader who mentioned that Inside Evil’s pacing wasn’t very good and that there wasn’t enough back story in the book. Looking into her history, I saw that she marked similarly for all books which didn’t give back story or lots of superfluous information. She also mentioned that it took her longer than normal to read the book because she just couldn’t get into it. In my rush to find reviews, I’d simply just found a name, an email and sent the book out. Of course, EVERY reader is entitled to their opinion and I’m grateful for the honest review, but if I’d done my research, I would have discovered that perhaps this reader wasn’t the best candidate for my work.

You can then compare this to the wonderful four star rating that I also received today from The Book Barbies. Whilst the pacing was slow for the reviewer mentioned above, the reader at The Book Barbies couldn’t put it down. She was devastated by the cliffhanger and is ‘dying in anticipation for the next book’. She even had a dream about the book after she’d finished.

You can never tell if someone’s going to love or hate your work, and it’s important to not become too bogged down by the details. After all, Twilight has 715 ONE star reviews on Amazon, The Hunger Games has 501, and even Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone has 88. However, when you’re searching for book reviewers, it can be worthwhile to take some time and establish a reader’s back history of reviewing and the genre and style’s that they love. It could make or break your resulting write-up.

The Difficulty of a title

As you may have discovered in my previous post, I’m setting about finishing a science fiction novel that’s been cluttering my computer files for far too long. I started reading it today and really enjoyed it – ok, I’m very biased – but I very quickly got back into the characters and story. I do have one problem, however, in that the new work has no name.

A title is pretty darn important. Inside Evil was always there from the beginning and worked so well as it can be interpreted on various different levels for the book, from the ancient evil lurking in the woods, to the inner conflict that many of the characters have throughout the story. Likewise, The Tower of Souls came to me as I was writing and I now can’t think of any better title for the second in the series. However, the latest work just isn’t coming along.

Self publishing means that I can flit in and out of published works, change inaccuracies and errors when they’re highlighted, add appendices and epilogues as needed and even, as I’ve just done, change the listings to create one book into a series of books. However, a title sticks. It can be the first thing that readers see and so it’s essential to get it correct. Along with good cover art, an alluring title can persuade people to delve more into the details of a book and hopefully make them buy it.

The problem with my latest work is that I’ve already written it and nothing enthralling has come to mind. I have a working title, but it’s pretty bland and boring, and if I think that, then god only knows what readers will think. Perhaps I’ll pass it to my proofer with the title TBC, perhaps something will come to me, or to her. But, until that crucial element of self publishing is decided, cover art and the ultimate publication is going to be seriously held up!