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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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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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 Business. Tim 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;
- Quit my day job
- Buy a yacht
- Write more books
- Donate large sums of money to organizations that support human rights and animal rights
- 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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