Category Archives: Marketing

Guest Post: J.A. Sutherland

My 2016 Year in Review

In putting together notes for this post, I’m actually pretty glad I decided to do it. In many ways, 2016 was a horrible year – but for my writing career, I find it was pretty good, and writing this gave me some very positive things to reflect on.

One of the positive things is that I wound up with some interesting data on presales – as a data-driven guy, I like that.

Presale periods are a surprisingly divisive issue for authors, with some swearing by them and others … well, there’s some swearing involved there, as well.

One of the arguments against them is that, at least on Amazon, sales from the prerelease period don’t “count” toward rank on release day, thus not driving a new release as high in the charts as it might otherwise go.

I think that’s short-sighted. Marketing is all about eyeballs – getting more eyeballs on a product, repeatedly, so that it becomes more familiar and more likely to be purchased. Given this, it would seem that sustained, longer-term visibility is more beneficial than a shorter period, even if the shorter period, even if the shorter period gets more individual eyeballs.

A presale period does this by staying on the new release charts longer, exposing the book to eyeballs more often, and my personal dataset seems to bear this out.

First by happenstance, then by design, I released three of my four books following the same pattern and at the same time of year. In addition, I do very little marketing, so my sales charts are largely unaffected by ads and are driven almost exclusively by visibility on Amazon.

My first, third, and fourth books were all made available for prerelease in August, starting in 2014, with a release date in November, the maximum prerelease period available on Amazon to a self-published author.

There were relatively few presales with the first book, but what I observed with the third and fourth was striking.

Now, all of the expected YMMV caveats apply – this is data for a series, in the space opera genre, and may not apply elsewhere, especially to stand alone novels. Also, I’m tracking dollars-earned, not number of copies, because, frankly, that’s what I care about.

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  1. I put my first book on presale in August 2014 for a November release. It had a trickle of presales over that time, and more sales when it finally released.
  2. Book 2 went on presale in November 2014 for a February release, which, I think, helped Book 1’s sales after a bit.
  3. After which, sales fell steadily through the new in the last 30-, 60-, and 90-day lists.
  4. Until Book 3 went on presale in August 2015. Now, it’s important to remember that the dollars for presales don’t register until the book’s actually released, so this jump in sales (of 10x the previous months) is entirely sales of the existing books, not the new one. I did virtually no advertising or promotion during this time, so the effect is entirely attributable to the visibility of Book 3 on the Hot New Release charts, which are significantly easier to get on than a category’s Best Seller chart.
  5. So I got 90-days of that visibility, then all the revenue from presales, and still had 30-days of “new release” status going into November.
  6. The question I started asking as Book 3 lost that status was: Is that repeatable? Not just the spike of new release sales and initial visibility, but the sustained sales of the previous books while the next is in prerelease? It seemed logical, but so many authors were swearing that the Day One spike was essential.
  7. Well, sure enough, it did repeat, with slightly different pattern because Book 4 went on prerelease a bit later in August this time.
  8. All of which resulted in, again, more presales of the next book, making November 2016 my best month ever.
  9. And projecting December to be better than last year as well, though not as much as it could be because the audiobook of the new release is a bit delayed (Book 3’s audiobook released in December 2015, increasing that month’s revenue.

It could be argued that the higher rank of a Day One, no-prerelease spike might make more money, but given what I know about marketing, I don’t think so. Amazon’s algorithms favor stability of rank over spikes, so I don’t think a higher spike would last as long in its effect. I know that it would take a huge number of sales in 30-days of visibility from no prerelease to make up for the revenue I see in 120-days with one – it doesn’t seem feasible.

Marketing is about eyeballs and while some people will buy your book the first time they see it, others will think “maybe” – the longer it’s visible, the more opportunities there are to both get the initial buyers and convert the “maybes” to yeses.

I know I plan to repeat this with my next release and hope 2017 will be better still.

untitled ..Bio:

Bio:
J.A. Sutherland spends his time sailing the Bahamas on a 43′ 1925 John G. Alden sailboat called

Yeah … no. In his dreams.

Reality is a townhouse in Orlando with a 90 pound huskie-wolf mix who won’t let him take naps.

When not reading or writing, he spends his time on roadtrips around the Southeast US searching for good barbeque.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jasutherlandbooks/
Twitter: @JASutherlandBks
Website: www.alexiscarew.com

Learning To Market My Book – Guest Post: Tony Dobranski

 

Learning To Market My Book

Guest Post: Tony Dobranski

I signed my book contract in March 2016. Since then, my professional life has been a crash course in marketing, a mix of constant research and the ongoing leap of faith that I knew how to reach my audience.

*A Marketing Primer

Marketing is how you tell your audience about your book. Because it’s a message, it can have creativity and artistry to it. Marketing is always a business act, however. It connects you with your audience so your audience wants to buy and share your book.

The huge changes brought by ebooks, independent publishing, social media, fan conventions, and giant corporate media mergers have completely upended the publishing business. Whatever business structure helps you get your work out to the world, you are your best marketer, and you will be for years to come.

*A Marketing Plan

When WordFire Press asked for the manuscript of The Demon in Business Class, they also asked for a marketing plan. I took it very seriously, examining my market, publisher, and novel, with an honest if enthusiastic eye. Never hide from the truth of your book. All lemons are potential lemonade.

Demon is a hybrid novel with corporate thriller and romance elements and a literary style. It has a forward-looking, niche audience, not in the mainstream of the fantasy genre, and aimed at mature readers. It’s also an outlier in the WordFire Press stable, which tends to more adventure and to an all-ages audience.

This gives a granular answer for where I find my audience: eager for novelty, happy with a relaxed approach to genre, wants good writing but also a plot. Comfortable with mature content, even pleased to have it. Interested in travel. It suggests their likes, their touchstones, how to reach them and with what kind of attitude. It’s clearly a market my publisher has yet to tap.

Plus, this audience spans genres. Romance readers, thriller readers, and people who care what the New Yorker reviews all have a subset with these same tastes. With a scenario that depends on magic, fantasy is my natural starting point, but modern shopping makes genre labels less prominent. You don’t browse Amazon aisles the way you browse bookstore aisles.

For all these reasons, it was clear Demon would depend even more than most books on word-of-mouth – a long process, but one where an author can help.

*Learning to Con

It took eight months from when I signed my contract to when my book could be bought by the greater public – on the most aggressive timetable possible, to get to fall conventions before shopping season. The WordFire Press staff pushed tremendously hard to make a stylish, bold product in double-time. I needed to be ready to be its author!

One major outlet where an author can make a personal impact is at fan conventions. If you don’t think your niche has them, you haven’t looked hard enough! It’s a good idea to attend them before you have a book to sell, to see what works for you as a con-goer and what you need to do to make being a con-guest worth your while.

In the science-fiction and fantasy genres, cons differ widely. Festival cons, or comic cons, have tens of thousands of fans celebrating all fantastic genres, but emphasizing the visual. Though these cons have discussion panels and interviews with artists, they are foremost a huge marketplace, with the added draw of the costumed shoppers themselves. You can find readers there – if you’re eye-catching and fast. They are budget-conscious and overwhelmed by sights, but they are eager for some new thing. If you have that thing, it’s a positive connection.

This inspired a banner and marketing materials narrowly tailored for my audience’s sensibility, with edge, wit, and maturity all quickly established. It helped to have an amazing cover!

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So far it’s working. I see my title or cover or banner catch eyes and draw smiles, long enough at least for me to engage people. Readers with different tastes walk on by, which is just as good – better no sale than an angry bad review!

Literary cons are smaller, scholarly events, with a pronounced emphasis on readers and writers. Though the membership is only in the hundreds, these fans are deeply connected in the word-of-mouth fan communities, and eager to discuss their genre with creators and with other enthusiastic fans. The high writer-to-reader ratio makes for engaging discussions in hallways and at bars and suite parties. New writers will find both fellowship and validation.

You may get a reading slot or autograph table, but new writers get noticed on panels. Be courteous, especially when you disagree, and knowledgeable. Engage questions creatively, and as positively as you can. You and the other panelists are together an event for the audience. Look for creative ways to turn questions around.

Involve the crowd. Remember – in each audience are likely readers of your book.

*Social Media

Curated corners of social media still feature long-form writing, but blogs are passing. If you look at social media as a marketing channel, you’re competing with many other voices – sometimes, your own friends! Make your posts image-driven, eye-catching and quick to read.

For a book release, YA paranormal writer Shannon A Thompson makes single image “book teasers” with a character’s backstory and a clipart image. https://shannonathompson.com/2016/06/15/ww-how-to-create-book-teasers-on-a-small-budget/ I saw them as a great way to create interest in the story. Not only were they vastly less expensive than a video trailer, each one could be shared on its own.

Keeping in mind my core audience, I wanted to share my style and my hybrid setting. One night, while drifting off to sleep, I remembered my old Star Wars trading cards. Perhaps it was my dreamy state, but I imagined them as a kind of shattered and reassembled movie trailer, with important moments in random order, something familiar yet offbeat. Perhaps I could make the offbeat a path to the familiar.

I developed my own trading cards, online images with sly quotes from the book, and clip-art lookalikes of my characters that I made more expressive using the online Prisma app:

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I made fifty-six, to release daily on social media in the two months spanning my release, my first readings and my four fall cons.

They were popular, and easier to share across multiple platforms. People told me the quotes and visuals gave a much better sense of my book than the title alone. You can still see them on my Instagram! www.instagram.com/adobranski

People crave original content, even if it’s commercial. If you can express your sensibility in small, steady streams of content, social media can send it far and wide.

* Check Your Tech

Tablets and smartphones are tough for long-form writing, but they are essential for social media. Remember the Prisma app for modifying stock photos to use on Instagram? Prisma is ONLY made for iOS and Android, not for computer desktops. While you can view an Instagram feed on a computer, you can’t post to it – handhelds only.

I hope my approaches inspire you to take a fresh look at how you can find your audience, creatively and entertainingly. Each book has a different main and secondary audience, and a different publication path – giving a unique set of marketing opportunities. Maybe next year will be your year of marketing!

Reality Checks Cut Both Ways

unwilling-souls-cover_promoPhilip K. Dick had a saying: “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” 2016 has been, for me, the year of the reality check in many different ways. By way of my writing year in review, I’m going to go over four of those below.

I released my first book, Unwilling Souls, late in 2015. What followed was, to put it bluntly, a firm dose of reality. It didn’t do as well, sales-wise, as I would have liked, and it took me a while to come to grips with the disappointment of that. It’s not easy to put that in writing. But this is a writing blog, and I want other writers to see the full spectrum of the industry. I can name three friends off the top of my head who have self-published and found great success right off the bat. But the reality of indie publishing is that there is a lot of noise out there and it will probably take a lot of work and time and some luck for your particular signal to get through.

In the end, I put a lot of time, effort, and care into a story I loved. I released not only a great book but a professionally done one and I’m very proud of it. And if I can brag for a bit, the reviews the book has received so far bear out my belief in it. The high point has been the book’s entry in Mark Lawrence’s second Self Published Fantasy Blog Off. 300 self-published entries were split into “heats” of thirty and distributed to ten bloggers, each of whom read the entries and picked one to send forward to the final round. Amid some very stiff competition over at Lynn’s Book Blog, Unwilling Souls was runner-up in its heat, not quite making it to the finals but earning a very nice review and a consolation interview on Mark Lawrence’s blog. And as perfect counterpoint to the initial disappointment of slow sales, I thought to myself “I can do this. I’m not some sort of fraud.” It was a very different kind of reality check.

Kevin J. Anderson says the best advertisement for your previous book is your next book, and I’d hoped to release the sequel, Ungrateful God, less than a year after the first. I nearly drove myself insane from December ’15 through the end of March of this year working toward an editing deadline. But as working fast is not always working best, and because this book is longer and more complicated book than its older sibling, the edits I got back from Joshua Essoe were more extensive than I planned. When the beginning third of a book needs extensive reworking, that tends to cascade through the rest of the text, and so for anyone patiently waiting for the next installment, please be patient a bit longer. I promise you that the end result will be both much better than it was and a much better book than its predecessor as well. Reality check number three turned out to be that my day job and my sanity necessitate a bit less aggressive of a publishing schedule.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t churn out quality content quickly when I have to. In late March, immediately after turning my draft of Ungrateful God over to Joshua’s red pen, I had a choice to make. I could either forego submitting to the latest Superstars anthology Dragon Writers, or I could write and edit a short story worthy of publication in less than three days — something I’d never done before. Since I already had the Unwilling Souls universe on the brain and a dragon-themed story was both appropriate to that world and timely, I wrote a story set in the distant past of the world of my series about the team that killed the last of the great beasts after the Immurement War (which just happened to be a dragon of sorts). “Shattered Pieces Swept Away” was born. I was very pleased with the story, but didn’t even have time to get it beta-read before having to submit it, so I was not optimistic about its inclusion with so many other great entries. I was both surprised and humbled when it was accepted. It’s something I wouldn’t have been able to do even a year earlier. Call that reality check number four.

And of course, no recap of 2016 would be complete without reporting that for the first time since 2012, I managed to make it back to the Superstars Writing Seminar. Seeing all my old friends in person and making new ones will always be one of the highlights of any year I can manage it. It’s like catnip for writers, and I’m never so motivated to get out there and write as when I leave the seminar. While I won’t be able to go again this upcoming year, rest assured I’ll find my way back.

So 2016 was all about reminding me that a writer has to take the long view. This year has taught me that I can absorb disappointment and keep trucking forward, all the while building a readership little by little (pun intended). Not coincidentally, it’s also the year where I first started feeling like a “real” writer at the start of an exciting journey. Thanks for following my posts this year, Fictorians readers. I look forward to sharing the next year of this journey with you. I hope each of you have a wonderful holiday season, and I’ll see you in the new year!

 

About the Author: Gregory D. Littleheadshot

Rocket scientist by day, fantasy and science fiction author by night, Gregory D. Little began his writing career in high school when he and his friend wrote Star Wars fanfic before it was cool, passing a notebook around between (sometimes during) classes. His first novel, Unwilling Souls, is available now from ebook retailers and trade paperback through Amazon.com. His short fiction can be found in The Colored Lens, A Game of Horns: A Red Unicorn Anthology, and Dragon Writers: An Anthology. He lives in Virginia with his wife and their yellow lab.

You can reach him at his website (www.gregorydlittle.com), his Twitter handle (@litgreg) or at his Author Page on Facebook.

Paid to Play: Writing Licensed Fan Fiction in Kindle Worlds

We’ve all heard that writing fan fiction is something that professional writers don’t do. Fan fiction has a stigma attached to it of being vastly amateur and a waste of time for aspiring authors who should be cutting their teeth on their own works. The truth of the matter is that fan fiction has a very large fan base and can provide a great opportunity for new writers to hone their abilities. Yet, being paid for writing fan fiction has always been reserved for authors who sign literary contracts to write “media tie-ins.” The media tie-in was essentially the sole professional version of fan fiction until Kindle Worlds came along.

Kindle Worlds is a project from Amazon that allows authors to write licensed fan fiction in any of the licensed world. Authors can earn royalties (typically 30%) from their works in a licensed world. Works can be any length from short story to full novels. The only “catch” is that Amazon and that licensed world own your story in perpetuity. Licensed worlds include the worlds of bestselling authors Hugh Howey, Bella Andre, and Kurt Vonnegut. Other worlds include television properties (Vampire Diaries, Wayward Pines, Veronica Mars) and comic book properties (G.I.Joe: A Real American Hero, Quantum and Woody, XO Man-o-War). All an author has to do is have an idea, check the Kindle Worlds quality/content guidelines for that licensed world, write a story, and publish it. It’s licensed fan fiction, and I can say from experience, a huge opportunity.

A few years ago at the World Science Fiction Convention in San Antonio, I met Hugh Howey. We had a great conversation then, and ever since via infrequent emails. I first heard about Kindle Worlds from Hugh. Roughly about the time that I finished the second of his Silo Saga novels (SHIFT), I had an idea for a story in his universe. Knowing that the universe was available through the Kindle Worlds program, I worked up a story and promptly hesitated. On the cusp of submitting the story, I chickened out and emailed Hugh for advice. He told me to publish the story, and I did. I’ve published several short stories via Kindle, but none has sold like my Silo Sage novelette “Vessel.” It’s been out for a couple of years and has never left the Top 200 in Kindle Worlds Science Fiction and Fantasy, topping out at #3. The story has done nicely, putting some extra money in my account while generating name recognition. I never thought about name recognition as a by-product for Kindle Worlds until I had an idea for another story in a different universe.

As a kid, the cartoon series G.I.Joe: A Real American Hero was my favorite series of all time. When I saw that its universe was part of Kindle Worlds, I was amazed and thrilled. In the Kindle Worlds stories, there are some really good ones including those by bestselling author Carrie Vaughn and my friends Peter Wacks and Aaron Michael Ritchey. On a getaway weekend to Breckenridge a couple of years ago, I had an idea for a story in that universe and wrote it inside of a week. After some read-throughs and edits, I used the Kindle Worlds cover builder, formatted the book, and set it live. What happened next is surreal. About 24 hours after I set the title live, I had a Twitter notification on my account (@TheWriterIke). I’d been mentioned in a tweet from Amazon Kindle Worlds that reached almost 35,000 subscribers. They’d also tagged one of the major G.I.Joe toy collector groups, and they then retweeted it to another 6,000 subscribers. The story hit #7 in all of Kindle Worlds within the next few hours. I gained fifty or so Twitter followers. Like “Vessel,” my short story “Friends In High Places” has continued to do very well, and the fact that it’s licensed fan fiction is something I’m very proud of.

I believe firmly that writers should seek payment for our work. Exposure doesn’t pay the bills. Kindle Worlds is a perfect opportunity to play in someone else’s world while earning royalties and gaining exposure. Check them out at KindleWorlds.Amazon.Com and see if there is a licensed world you’re familiar with. Then, if the muse whispers in your ear, sit down and write the best story you possibly can. You never know what might happen with it.