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Marketing Non-fiction – the Dark Chasm

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There is a ton of information out there by indie authors, for indie authors, on marketing fiction. Blogs, books, Facebook groups, you name it. But dare to venture into the world of indie non-fiction, and you are suddenly lost in the dark. Don’t believe me? Google it. (Or Bing it. Or Duck-Duck-Go it. You get the picture.)  And if your book is at all controversial (think politics or religion), then forget about it. Even places that do routinely feature at least some non-fiction will turn you down because they don’t want to rock the boat. I get that, but it’s frustrating.

Here are the options and routes I’ve discovered so far in this journey. (To clarify, I’m finding promo sites for my husband’s book on the 2012 election, which is, apparently, as shocking and polarizing as saying that I was abducted by aliens. Actually, more so. People write about getting abducted by aliens all the time!) Okay, back to the marketing.

BookBub, which is fabulous for a lot of types of fiction, will not take controversial material. Now, this is an educated guess on my part due to several factors, because they never tell anyone they turn down the reasons for their rejection. But another, similar site, does, and that was their explanation. Also, BookBub only has “General Non-fiction” rather than Current Events or Politics, so the fit may not be that great for their subscribers anyway. You can always try it – you don’t pay until they accept you – but I wouldn’t get my hopes up.

Book Gorilla. This is the site/service that’s similar to BookBub. They are currently reading the book to decide whether or not to take it. I have paid (and paid for a spotlight feature), but they will return my money if they decide not to promo the book. They’ve been very easy to work with and clear in their explanation and apologies, so no hard feelings. Again, the explanation was that they don’t present things to their subscribers that are controversial/polarizing. (Which brings up a point… Shouldn’t we all be able to see the cover of a book in a list of books and not feel personally affronted if it disagrees with our own worldview? I mean, it’s just a photo, right? Sometimes… Well, never mind.)

EBook Booster. They took the ad and ran with it. Now, whether all 45+ of the sites they post to will run it, I don’t know. But there was no hesitancy on their part to take it. I suspect they just take anything that isn’t heavy erotica, but I’m not sure about that. So far, so good, anyway.

FreeBooksy. I have placed the ad request and paid. They take a day or two to get back to you, usually, so I’m not sure if they’ll run it or not. I’ve had success with my novels on this sight, and they do have a Non-Fiction genre, so fingers crossed. UPDATE: We’re good to go!

BlogAd consolidators. I have just discovered this, and am going to get on it after I receive banner ads of the correct size from my graphic artist. What I finally did in desperation was type “advertise conservative sites” in the search engine. This one came up, and it has links to a lot of great sites for my husband’s book, so I’ll be placing ads. It’s expensive, but it seems that most things having to do with non-fiction are. You can break down your search into just about any type of blog/topic, and then select the ones you want to advertise on. The prices vary hugely – advertising on Perez Hilton’s celebrity gossip site starts at $1442 for a little ad. Towleroad starts at $2200. But Legal Insurrection is $30, Kindle Buffet is $21, and This Ain’t Hell But You Can See It From Here is $10. (In other words, all price points for ALL TYPES of blogs!) This is probably the easiest way to hit your target audience with non-fiction.

Guest posting. One of the things about non-fiction is that it seems that people are a lot more competitive. Most novelists in the indie world see their fellow novelists, even in the same genre, as co-adventurers. But boy, in non-fiction, all bets are off! I guess if you write non-fiction, you are pretty sure you’re right, and you want people to buy YOUR book on your topic, and no one else’s. However, it is still possible to find some amenable souls with whom to exchange articles/blog posts, if you’re diligent and nice and complimentary and not too competitive. (For instance, if your book is called The One and Only Houdini, you might not want to approach another author/blogger whose book is called The Definitive Guide to Houdini. Just sayin’.) The worst someone can say is no, and if you offer space in your blog/Facebook/Twitter in exchange, they may just go for it.

Tweeting services. I’m on the fence about this one, because book tweeting services are geared towards fiction, so I don’t know that you are getting the most bang for your buck. However, the couple we’ve used have been willing to discount their price because of that very thing, so it may be worth a shot. The better plan might be to find someone with a similar following to yours (and this is a lot more broad, perhaps, than with blogging), and again, offer to cross-promote with them.

Giveaways. We are planning a Rafflecopter giveaway for WTF? How Karl Rove and the Establishment Lost… Again. Rafflecopter is super easy to use, and if you have a good giveaway, it’s a great way to boost your Facebook Likes, your Twitter followers, and your mailing list. You can give people who enter the chance to get more entries by Liking you on FB, retweeting the giveaway, or answering a question, plus you get their info in a csv file and can add them to your mailing list. Then ask your followers to retweet the giveaway, too. If it’s a good one, they will. I recently did one for my novel Solomon’s Throne, which has a ton of travel to cool locations in it. I made a “travel pack” with a great, packable hat, a cool bag, a hot/cold water bottle, some lip balm, and two signed books from the Quinn series. It was valued at over $150, and I got a lot of entries, plus the winner was so excited that she was tweeting about it all over the place, giving me more exposure. (And that $150 is a tax write-off!)

Book blasts. I haven’t tried this yet for WTF?, but I’m going to, because this has been a huge thing for my sci-fi trilogy. When I combined a book blast with a giveaway worth over $175 (an Ixeos survival pack that included a Northface backpack, a pocket atlas, a tee shirt, and a bunch of other ‘survival’ items plus signed books), we had over 9,000 entries! So I’m going to approach my usual book blast gals, Book Nerd Tours, and see if they’re open. I’ve also used I Am a Reader for book blasts, so I’ll try them, too. If neither want to try it, I’ll keep searching!

Mailing lists. I think this is probably very effective for non-fiction, especially if you write multiple books on your topic. I don’t love mailing lists — I just did my first newsletter of 2013 recently! — but if people are interested enough to sign up, go for it! Just keep it content oriented, not simply an ad for your book. A lot of the people who’ve signed up will have already read it. They want new stuff!

Blog/website/landing page. A lot of non-fiction books have landing pages. My husband’s is www.TokyoRove.com. It’s a good idea, and content should be updated frequently. Same goes for your blog and website. Non-fiction readers, particularly of current events, are voracious in their appetite for news and ideas. Give it to them! Be the place they go when they want to know the latest.

Keywords. This is a biggie for non-fiction. You get 7 keywords for your Kindle listing (numbers vary for other publishing outlets). You need to update these frequently, based on what is trending in your genre and on your topic. If you’re compared in a review to a best-selling author, put that author’s name in your keywords for awhile, so people searching for them will also find you. If a topic is trending that pertains to your book, put that in your keywords. Update MONTHLY to stay on top of trends and capture all the searches you can.

That’s all I’ve got so far! It is definitely harder to market non-fiction online than it is fiction, although it’s a lot easier to market it in person. Go to conventions and get a booth, offer to speak on your topic, approach local radio to be a guest, offer your book to groups at a discount. Be creative and proactive. After all, you’re an expert! There are a million (actually more like a billion!) books out there, and you have to get yours in front of your target audience. Build a tribe and all that…

Have more ideas? Let me know! And soon!!

Yep, I’m a bestseller! (What???) And you can find all my books on Amazon!

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Is Self Publishing Really the Wild West?

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As an indie author, I try to keep up with trends in the industry. Since self publishing is so new, it seems like a “trend” is anything that’s been going on for a month or two, or at least that how it seems. There are some really good people doing some really good research into what’s happening in indie-author land, and these people are certainly more in the know than I am. You can read Joe Konrath’s blog, A Newbie’s Guide to Self-Publishing, and get a ton of really useful information, plus Joe is incredibly open about his sales figures. Dean Wesley Smith and his wife Kristine Kathryn Rush have very different ideas on self publishing than Konrath does, especially when it comes to offering (or not offering) free promotions. All of them are successful and full of information, and the indie author needs to take away what suits their personality, style, and willingness to work on areas other than writing.

I read this article yesterday written by Jane Friedman, which was posted in my Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) group, called “5 Industry Trends Requiring Every Writer’s Attention.” One of the suggestions is counter to most advice these days — she suggests that writers do NOT work to build a platform. Here’s the pull quote:

“If you’re a totally new, unpublished writer who is focused on fiction, memoir, poetry, or any type of narrative-driven work, forget you ever heard the word platform. I think it’s causing more damage than good. It’s causing writers to do things that they dislike (even hate), and that are unnatural for them at an early stage of their careers. They’re confused, for good reason, and platform building grows into a raging distraction from the work at hand—the writing.

Therefore, build your platform by writing and publishing in outlets that are a good fit for you, lead to professional growth, and build your network. The other pieces will start to fall into place. It might take longer, but who cares if you’re feeling productive and enjoying yourself? Go be a writer and take a chance on the writing. Writing and publishing good work always supports the growth of your platform—and I’m willing to bet more valuable platform building will get done that way, especially for narrative-driven writers.”

Today, Jane’s friend Dan Blank posted this article called “The Dirty Secret of the Author Platform (Hint: It’s Difficult)” and while he doesn’t totally disagree with Jane, he says this, “No one is more motivated to communicate the value of your book more than you, the author. Why should you consider building an author platform now? Because it takes time to develop meaningful relationships and trust with others.

Should this only be pursued by serious writers? Yes, because this is hard work. Establishing an author platform is about ensuring your book is not just “published,” but finds readers and has an impact in their lives. It is about thinking about a book beyond just an object whose effect is measured by a publication date or a point of sale. That the book is something that lives in the hearts and minds of readers long after it is read.

This is what an author platform delivers.”

So… Platform or no platform? Free books or no free books? Sell only on Amazon, or put your book into every possible outlet the world over? These are only a few of the conflicting questions out there; they barely scratch the surface of the debate going on in this new wild, wild west arena of indie publishing. And don’t even get me started on the vast and varying opinions of Amazon and their ever-changing algorithms.

As a new author — my first book won’t be a year old until July — I can, at times, feel overwhelmed with all of this advice, certainty, even dogma. It’s a lot like when I first started homeschooling my kids. There was so much conflicting information out there, and everyone was sure that they were right. What I came to learn over the years is that a lot of them were right… For their own family and children. For mine? Not so much.

We have to sift through the vast, amazing, and generous treasure trove of shared information out there and seek out those nuggets that really speak to us. Just like we don’t all write the same books, we also can’t run our indie author business the same way. For some people, only listing their books for sale on Amazon works. 99% of their sales come from Amazon, the advertising and promotion outlets for any other book platform is sorely lacking to non-existent, and it’s one thing to check each day. For others, they can’t imagine not having their book on B&N, Kobo, Smashwords, iBookstore, their own website, and print copies available to drop off at libraries and independent bookstores within a two hundred mile radius of their house. They don’t look at low sales on any one channel as a nuisance, but rather see those small numbers adding up to large ones.

Neither one of these is wrong. The Amazon-only person is happy because they don’t have so much to keep up with, and (potentially) they can spend more of their time writing. The be-everywhere author is happy because there is virtually no corner of the globe where his or her book is unavailable.

The same goes for platform building. For me personally, I do three things: this blog, Facebook and Twitter. Yes, I am on Goodreads, too, but I check it about once a month. I find the site difficult to use both as a reader and as a writer, and, at least in my genres, the forums not very active. I do Giveaways on them periodically, and am thrilled they let me do that, and I accept all friend requests, but that’s about it. I joined Triberr and couldn’t figure it out. I get asked to do things on Linkedin all the time, but I have no interest there. Google+… I just don’t get it. I know there are other things that people have had great success with, but for me, either the learning curve is too high (like Triberr) or I just can’t get into it. Even the few things I do sometimes seem like too much work, so I’ve decided that I’m okay with my three things.

But if you love social media, and keeping up with a large author platform is fun for you, then you should do it! Just because I don’t, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.

Marketing and promotion? Same thing. Blog tours work for me. I know writing guest posts and doing interviews is a big time committment, but I genuinely love to teach and explain and clarify, and blogs let me do that much better than a 140 character Tweet. I don’t put a lot about my books on Twitter or Facebook, mostly just status reports on new projects and word counts, cover reveals, and free day promotions. The rest is about writing. I’m not great at selling things… hopefully, I’m okay at selling myself. I do paid advertising pretty aggressively, and spend a good amount of time on it. Could I find more free stuff? Probably. Honestly, it’s just too much work, when a guaranteed feature is only $5 on so many sites. But is it the wrong way to go? Absolutely not! Free is great when you can get it, and there’s a lot of ways to do it if you’re patient and persistent.

Okay, one caveat. Please, please, please… Do not use Twitter as a scrolling billboard. Honestly. I, and most others, will unfriend you. I try to retweet a couple of things a day, and sometimes it is next to impossible to find something, anything, that isn’t an ad. Do us all a favor (including yourself) and save 90% of your ads for places ads are supposed to go!

The bottom line? No matter what you do, success isn’t a sprint. As my fortune cookie so wisely said, “Success is a planned event.” And true success doesn’t come overnight. It comes with perseverance, with days and weeks and months, and yes, even years, of consistent work. It comes with writing the best books you can write, putting the best covers on them you can find, and doing the best you can to get it in the hands of readers. Amazon change their algorithms just before you were going to put your first book in KDP Select? If you have another book coming soon, do it anyway. It won’t generate a lot of follow-up sales these days, but you’ll get some people who love your work and will buy the next one. If someone tells you not to do it, and you still feel like it’s the right thing to do, then do it! What’s the worst that can happen? You get a bunch of free books into other people’s hands, and you tie up your ebook for 90 days with Amazon. That’s all. The sky won’t fall. The indie author police won’t come to your house.

Be brave and courageous, and stay true to yourself. After all, you published a novel! How awesome is that? You’ve already done an amazing thing by following your heart. Keep doing that, keep taking the advice that speaks to you, and forge your own path. You’re as unique as your book!

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Writing for Google Analytics – “Kindle Cash”

I read (most of) a book called Kindle Cash by Michael Masters last night, which is, as you might suspect, on marketing your indie book on Kindle. Except it wasn’t, really, it was about using Google analytics to put your book high on the search engine’s results. As it is directed at non-fiction writers, much of it didn’t pertain to me, but since my husband is also going to indie route with his non-fiction book, I read it anyway.

I do agree with his premise in principle – get a marketing plan in place that will move along without you. Obviously this is the ideal, and the whole reason behind multi-level marketing companies. His marketing plan is to delve deeply into the SEO world of Google, research keywords, analyze the hits on certain keywords, analyze the placement competition of websites using those keywords, and title your book/blog/website (and write your book/blog/website) geared to those keywords.

Interesting stuff if you can figure it out, and I have no doubt that it works for the “how to” genre of book. (My husband’s book is not a how-to, and he is not a the kind of guy likely to do all this internet research, but he could pay someone to do it!) But for fiction, it is useless. Nobody Googles for fiction, unless it’s an author they know of already. And I have to point out that the author makes a snarky comment or two on the John Locke book and his use of social media – but Locke is selling fiction (with the except of HIS how-to book, but he’s already got a following, having published a dozen or so novels). I don’t think taking a swipe at someone who is also trying to help new indie authors is a classy thing, especially when you’re talking about apples and oranges.

Anyway, one thing Masters says that I do agree with is that the cover is more important than many, many kinds of marketing recommended by the “experts.” I buy a LOT of books (the reason I got a Kindle in the first place). I am a very visual person. If I click on a book and the cover is unappealing, amateurish, full of heaving bosoms, or otherwise turns me off, I don’t buy the book. I never really thought about it before until I decided to go the indie route, but the first thing I told my husband was that the cover was key. And since I’m a complete idiot when it comes to Photoshop, I knew right away that I was subbing that out to a professional!

Masters suggests, actually, that you have three covers, and upload the book with two, then replace the one that sells worse with the 3rd and see how it goes. I’m not sure about that, at least in my first genre of adventure/thriller. There are certain standards in that genre for cover and title, and I have bought enough of them to know. In the romance I’m writing, I’m afraid I’m going to have to dip a toe in heaving bosom territory, and that makes me… well, very afraid. But I am creating a product, not just stroking my own ego, and I really want you or someone you know to read and enjoy the book, so I want to market it in a way that gets it into your hands.

On another note, I changed templates on my website yesterday, and like it a lot better. I joined Twitter, and still feel like an idiot doing something called tweeting, not to mention that it’s not really suited to my personality (I like words to be fully spelled out and grammar, for one thing!). But I’m going to try to figure it out and work it in a way that I can live with and that doesn’t take multiple hours a day. I got my Facebook author page up and sent out invites to friends, and got 27 likes pretty fast, which is cool – I have a VERY private Facebook page personally, and keep my “friends” list pretty small, (only those who actually converse with me).

I took the day off from writing the NaNo novel, which is always a good break. I’m still on track to finish around the 27th with this first draft, and it’s going well so far. I’ll get back to it today and cross the 70,000 word mark. Love those numbers that end in 0 and 5!

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Filed under NaNoWriMo, Publishing, Self publishing, Writing