Winners and Losers: The Best and Worst Marketing Strategies

There are about 2.679 million ways to promote your book, online and off.  Some are free, some paid; some are winners, and others are flops.  marketing

I’ve started off mainly with free or very cheap promotions.  I’m about to branch into paid promotions, because while I’ve had a good amount of success with selling physical copies, I have yet to crack the e-book market.  And without a thousand-follower blog or a million-friend Facebook page, my best bet is using third-party sources, many paid.

Here’s a breakdown of each promotion strategy I’ve tried, and the relative successes and failures I’ve seen from each.

The Winners: 

  • Book launch party–although this was not the overwhelming success I had hoped for, I still sold 20 copies of the book, and most to people who would not have bought it otherwise.  I’m still so new to the marketing game that I consider it a triumph every time a stranger buys my book/reviews my book/likes my author page, so it was a big deal to tap into that greater market.  I also learned that random people who have no intention of buying a book tend to do so when free wine is involved!
  • Goodreads giveaway–this just started  photo goodreads giveaway image_zps4hxj5cjm.png” /></a><br /><br />yesterday, and already 99 people have added my book to their “to-read” list.  While those people may never buy it, they will recognize it in the future, and their friends on Goodreads will see that they entered the giveaway.  After reading up on maximizing giveaway gains, I discovered that books are most valuable when they’re first added and when the giveaway is about to expire.  It doesn’t make a difference if you offer 1 copy or 100 copies, so it’s a good idea to stay small and quick with the giveaways.  TIP: use HTML formatting to give yourself a large display image, rather than the small book-cover icon most giveaways use.  It makes your title way more eye-catching!
  • Author talks at schools–this has been my biggest success yet.  Though it will be months before I see any results in terms of sales, when bookstores have to re-order The Natural OrderI sold a copy to each school’s library, and had 500 kids engaged and excited to enter the “Extreme Reading” competition.
  • Extreme Reading competition–again, the results will take months to materialize, but everyone I’ve spoken to has been interested in entering the competition, and one unexpected benefit is that the competition, combined with author talks, guarantees you’ll be taken on by bookstores.
  • Submitting to bloggers for review–after hours of work, I got about 15 bloggers willing to read and review The Natural Order.  I won’t see most of these reviews up until next year, but when the first one came in, it was a well-thought-out and very positive critique.  Since I’m currently at 4 reviews on Amazon, any additional reviews count as a major plus at this point.

The Losers: 

  • Crocheted animals for reviewers–I’ve advertised this on my blog and on Facebook, but no one seems to be paying attention.  It’s a total flop.  I would have loved to get more reviews, but at least it will save me from crocheting a mountain of animals!
  • Facebook posts–these only go so far.  No one goes on Facebook to look at ads, so you can’t just promote your book constantly.  Unfortunately, the only people who paid attention to my posts were close friends, who have now bought the book and cannot be called upon for additional help.  If I can start bringing in additional “likes” for my author page, it might become a more useful marketing tool.  That’s part of the goal of the “Extreme Reading” competition.
  • Blogging–this blog has become more of a personal reflection on the marketing process than any sort of promotional tool.  I have all of 15 followers right now, and most posts get between 3 and 20 views (total).  While blogging your way to fame sounds like a tempting strategy, it’s hard to be seen in the noise of the over-saturated blogosphere.

Since I’ve mostly concentrated my efforts on selling the physical book up till now, it’s time to move into the untapped world of marketing my Kindle e-book.  Here are a few of the online strategies I’m going to try soon.

Future Strategies: 

  • KDP Select free promotion–this has just gone live today, so no feedback yet.  I haven’t advertised the free promotion at all, so it will be interesting to see the results of this compared to a well-publicized free promotion a few months later.
  • ENT (Ereader News Today) promotion–I just submitted my book to ENT, so hopefully it will be approved.  For this, I’ll be paying $35 for a wide-ranging series of promotions based on a Kindle deal where I’ve lowered the price of my book to $1.99.
  • Facebook paid promotion–it sounds as though success has generally been lackluster as far as paid Facebook promotions are concerned, but I might try one specifically advertising my “Extreme Reading” competition.  The nice thing about Facebook ads are that you can select which type of users you want the ad to appear to, and you only pay per click.  You can also put a cap on the amount you’ll pay, so you can keep costs low while observing clicking versus buying trends.
  • Ebookbooster–this is another paid service that (for just $25) advertises your book across many different sites.  You have to be doing a 99-cent or free giveaway at the time, so I’ll have to schedule this for after the ENT promotion ends.

If you have any questions or suggestions for further marketing ideas, let me know in the comments!

A Beginner’s Guide to Public Speaking

kaikoura 3I just returned from my first book tour around the South Island.  Though it’s too early to see whether sales have been affected, I can say the tour was a resounding success.

Here are the benefits of holding an author talk in front of classes:

  • Your name will be on the teachers’ and students’ radar.  If they see your book at a bookstore, they’re more likely to pick it up, and kids are likely to tell their parents about the author they saw at school that day.
  • Bookstores* can’t refuse your book (*see the bookstores post for exceptions)
  • You feel famous!  Everyone wants to know everything about you, and you might even get to autograph a few pages.
  • Schools will almost invariably buy a copy for their library.

As I mentioned before, I’m not a fan of public speaking.  After reading multiple marketing books that went on and on about how presentations can boost your sales and audience, I figured I would be missing out if I never gave it a try.  So, with some reluctance (I waited until the very last minute) I began contacting schools and asking whether they would be willing to host me for an author presentation.  I promised I would talk to the kids about reading and writing.

To my shock, the first school responded not thirty minutes after I had emailed them, saying they would love to have me come in.  More schools followed suit, and just two days later I had 8 schools in 5 different towns lined up.  I actually had to turn a couple down since I didn’t have enough time in each day!

I was very nervous in the week leading up to the tour.  I wished I had waited until later to arrange this; I was woefully unprepared, with nothing but the vaguest of presentation ideas gathered.

On the first day, my partner joined me in both school visits, filling in the gaps whenever I couldn’t think of what to say next.  I learned then that talking to the locals is the best strategy possible to get your book into bookstores.  After all, what bookstore is going to refuse to carry your book when you come up and say, “I just spoke to 100 kids in the area.  I’m running a big competition, and kids have to buy my book to enter.  Would you mind taking a few copies?”

I really got the hang of this public-speaking thing on the second day.  The morning started off with a full-school assembly of 150 kids, something I had been dreading, but I spoke flawlessly and confidently.  In fact, I found the larger my audience, the better my presentation.  I suppose I have something of a hidden talent for speaking to classes.

After that I was talking to classes on my own.  High schools were the worst–17-year-olds just sit and stare at you, not reacting in the slightest, and god forbid they ask a question in front of their peers!

Now that I’ve returned home, it’s time to tackle the local schools (of which there are 152).  Surprisingly enough, I look forward to speaking at more schools.  But here are a few things I wish I had known before I started the tour:

  • You’ll never feel prepared for your first public speaking engagement.  Sometimes it’s better just to jump in and see what happens.
  • Kids aged 7-13 LOVE asking questions.  It’s much easier and less intimidating to structure a presentation around questions and audience engagement.
  • Know your ideal audience.  Now that I know which students I should target (kids ages 8-13), I won’t be pursuing high schools or very young classes.  The most exciting, valuable talks were with kids in that age range.
  • Let the audience dictate the presentation.  If the kids are asking valuable questions, spend most of your time answering them.  If they’re restless, tell a funny story.  And if they’re much older or much younger than you anticipated, have different versions of the presentation prepared to suit their level.

The most valuable result of this tour, by far, was exposure.  Before this, perhaps 300 people knew my name, and most of them were facebook friends who never cared about my book to begin with.  Now, I’ve spoken with 500 students, not to mention their teachers and librarians, and my book is in 13 bookstores and 8 school libraries.  If I can gain that sort of exposure in just three days, imagine what I could achieve over the next 6 months!

How to get your self-published book into bookstores

As promised, here it is: the (somewhat boulder_bookstore1unpleasant) truth behind selling an indie book in bookstores.

When it comes to getting your book on shelves, there are three types of bookstores in the world:

  1. Huge chains (such as Barnes & Noble) that receive hundreds of thousands of submissions a year and are unwilling to take on any book without a distributor and a convincing marketing package
  2. Small bookstores (like the New Zealand chain, Paper Plus, where each store is independently owned) that are willing to support a local author and might give your title a trial run on shelves
  3. Local bookstores (such as Boulder Bookstore) that are all about supporting local authors, and have a system in place designed to give any indie work a chance

The Big Dogs 

I cannot speak from personal experience about the likelihood of indie titles breaking into large chains quite yet, since The Natural Order is currently being considered by the New Zealand chain Whitcoulls, but I can imagine my chances of success with Barnes & Noble are close to zero.

However, I will submit my book at some point, just as a bit of a test to see whether it stands a chance.

The New Zealand chain, meanwhile, has been more helpful than I expected.  I visited a local Whitcoulls store last week to ask what I would need to do to get my book on shelves, and after providing contact information to the staff, I heard from the head of Whitcoulls just two days later requesting a copy of my book to review.  My chances of placement in Whitcoulls are still slim, but I described my plan of speaking to schools to further my case.

Of course, I really would need a distributor to boost my chances, but I would lose money with every copy sold if I decided to do that.

Shipping costs are truly the most difficult part about publishing in New Zealand.  With the shipping costs added to each title, I have paid $12 NZD for each copy of The Natural Order printed.  These are then sold to bookstores for $14 or $15, which means my profit margin is very slim.  If a distributor were to take 40% of the profits, I would be paying for every book sold.

As it is, I’m only making about $2 per book.  It’s a difficult business!  Only the top 2% of authors earn a good living solely with their books.  The rest of us have to work for every sale–and keep the day job in the meantime.

The Small 

Most of the bookstores I’ve visited in New Zealand have been small, independently-owned stores that are willing to work with a local author.  Some of them have accepted The Natural Order immediately, while others have taken a copy to review first.

These bookstores–as with most–sell books on a consignment basis.  That means you give them however many copies they ask for, and they pay you as each one sells.

As an indie author, you start off with a trial run (usually 3-4 months); if your book proves to be successful, that time can be extended.

This is where marketing becomes crucial.  If you can send enough people to bookstores that they have to re-order your title, you’re in business!

However, I’ve been surprised by the degree of support these small bookstore owners are willing to give my title.  One of them promised to display the book on every shelf–on the front counter, on the teen fiction display shelf, and on the “selected reading” shelf.  That is something you won’t get free in most places.  Even traditionally published titles are usually lucky to get that sort of prominence.

And the Local Gems

Boulder Bookstore is one of a handful of local bookstores that goes out of its way to promote independent authors.  They have a large collection of indie titles, and a system in place to allow any indie author to sell their book in the store (for a small fee).

There are even options to pay for front-shelf placement.  I’ve gone with one of their main display packages–for $75, I get 10 books in the store for 3 months, with front-shelf placement for part of that time.  I won’t make a profit until the first 10 copies have sold, but given the popularity of the bookstore and the number of customers who like picking up eye-catching titles from the front shelves, I decided the package was worth the investment.

***

Now, the real test will be whether any copies are sold.  Even one will be a success at this point!

Two months ago, I had no idea I was book toureven going to order physical copies of The Natural Order, let alone see it in bookstores.  And now I’m days away from embarking on my very first book tour!

Gearing up for the South Island book tour!

I promised a post about bookstores last week, so that will be up in the next few days.  For now, though, it’s all hands on deck in preparation for our South Island book tour!

Given that we have limited time, it’s actually not the entire South Island–just the top half.  But we’ll have our hands full with that!

There are two main purposes for our book tour:

  1. visiting bookstores
  2. talking to schools.

The reason for bookstores is obvious–as I mentioned previously, even the main bookstore chain in New Zealand (Paper Plus) is locally owned in each town, so you have to go to each store directly to get your book on shelves.

And as for the schools, we’re hosting a DSC_5588major prize to get students reading.  It’s called the “Extreme Reading” competition–students take a photo of themselves reading The Natural Order in a crazy location or creative pose, and the winner gets an adventure trip to Queenstown for themselves and a parent or friend.

The book tour plans started out small…but within fifteen minutes of contacting schools, many of them were already replying to say they would love to have me come speak to their students.

(Cue the moment of sudden panic as I remember how much I dislike public speaking…)

I now have 8 schools lined up, in towns all around the top of the South Island: Kaikoura, Nelson, Richmond, Westport, and Greymouth.  And if any more start responding, I might have to turn them down!  I definitely hadn’t expected such enthusiasm.

And my goals for the book tour?  

  • I would be thrilled if we could sell the rest of our initial set of 200 books
  • Hopefully most of the bookstores will agree to take on The Natural Order–it could mean another 9 bookstores on top of the 6 it’s already at
  • And most of all, if I can get kids excited about the competition and posting “extreme reading” photos all over Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and what-have-you, that will give the book the publicity boost it needs

One final announcement 

It’s official: my website domain name has transferred, so rjvickers.com is now my real author website!   Check it out–I have a list of bookstores where you can author website view2find The Natural Order, a Q&A with the author, and the longest bio you’ll probably find anywhere on the internet.  Details of the “extreme reading” competition will be coming soon!

Until next time,

R.J. Vickers

The Aftermath of the Book Launch

As promised, one of my main objectives of tlaunch party posterhis blog is to chronicle what works and what doesn’t work in terms of book marketing.  Last night was my book launch party, so I can now dissect each marketing strategy I used for this to report exactly which ones are worth repeating and which ones were flops.

As for the book launch itself, how did it turn out?  Well, I’ll get around to explaining why I got the numbers I did later in this post, but about 30 people turned up.  It was nowhere near what I had hoped for, but we had an excellent time nonetheless.

Strategy Number 1: Advertise the book on Eventfinda.

This one actually worked, to my amazement!  I mostly listed the book launch there so anyone interested in coming could find more details if they looked it up, but two people actually showed up and bought books after reading about it on the event website.

In the future, rather than just passively listing the event, I might invest in a bit of promotion through Eventfinda.  It seems that this website targets people who actually want to go out for the evening, so these are prime candidates to attend an event that offers free wine and door prizes.

Strategy Number 2: Hand out invitation cards to anyone and everyone.

We gave these invitations to bookstore owners, to farmers’ market stall-holders (the Christchurch Farmers’ Market was originally owned by the owner of the cafe where the book launch was held), to friends, to family, and to regulars at the cafe.

This strategy was a complete failure.  While friends and family did materialize, they would have come with or without the invite cards.  After handing out innumerable invitation cards, we had somewhere close to 200 people express keen interest.  Perhaps 100 said they would “put it on the calendar” or “definitely be there.”

Well, I don’t know if it’s a Kiwi thing or just true in Christchurch, but I’ve found people here to be extremely flaky.  More than anyone in the US.  If you invite 20 people to an event and 10 say they’ll definitely come, it’s almost guaranteed that they will all text you the night of the event to say they’re too tired or (unexpectedly!) busy or whatever.  It’s not just me–my partner has had similar success, where he has to invite 30 people to an event just to get 1 to turn up.

So, as it turned out, everyone I actually knew well (apart from my closest friends, who did actually come, the dears) came up with an excuse, some of them valid and some not so much.  And everyone else just didn’t show.

I’ve learned never to depend on anything that requires people to actually show up at something.  90% of them just won’t materialize.

However, I did learn a valuable lesson to the contrary–while we were hosting the launch party, my partner started talking to everyone who entered the restaurant.  To my surprise, quite a few restaurant-goers ended up buying the book.  Kiwis are extremely nice people, and they all seem to be rooting for the success of an independent author (it’s a culture that’s highly focused on the do-it-yourself mindset), so the key is actually talking to people–with the book in hand.

With a reasonable cover price, a glass of free wine thrown in for good measure, and an enthusiastic author, people are quite happy to give the book a try.

Strategy Number 3: Show off books beforehand at the cafe.

Again, I discovered that having the book itself is an excellent selling strategy.  While advertising the book launch, I brought in several copies of The Natural Order each day to work, which resulted in many coworkers and a few customers buying a copy.

The night manager at Town Tonic suggested I do readings at the restaurant accompanied by a music performance on Sunday nights; this sounds like an excellent way to engage people who might just be in the cafe for dinner, and once they’re present, they’ll be more than likely to purchase a copy of the book.

Strategy Number 4: Advertise on Facebook.

This one worked…to a certain extent.  It undoubtedly helped raise awareness of the book launch, and some friends who would not have known otherwise ended up making an appearance, but therein lies the problem with facebook–it only targets friends.  To make a book successful, you have to reach a wider audience.

And with the recent changes in facebook’s author-page guidelines, you have to pay to even get visibility for your book, so I’m not yet sure how to tap into a larger audience on facebook.

***

What’s the takeaway from all of this, then?

Well, the book launch was certainly successful in that it got the book into the hands of quite a few people who had no reason to look at it otherwise.

And it taught me that randomly engaging people who happen to be in the right place is much more effective than expecting anyone to show up for a scheduled event.

Now that the book launch is over, it’s time to organize the book tour!!  I’ll be back soon with more news on how the planning goes.

It’s not so glamorous to be published…

It’s been almost a week now since The please_review_my_novelNatural Order was officially released.  Sometimes I feel like this poor sign-holder, begging for the one thing I can’t seem to get.

There haven’t been any agents knocking on my door yet, or through-the-roof sales.

Of course not.

Because the difference between invisible self-published authors (most of them) and successful self-published authors…is persistence.  Right now I’m invisible.  It’s exactly what I expected.  All I’ve done so far is advertise the book among my friends.  A few of them have bought it, and most haven’t.  Again, exactly as I expected.

If I could go back and do this publication thing over, with all of the knowledge I have now, I would start marketing the book months back.  I would have loved to get reviews from Publishers Weekly or The School Library Journal, but you have to submit the book 4 months before publication for that to happen.  And I should have sent out press releases ages ago regarding the book launch party.

But right now, that doesn’t matter.  After all, many authors and marketing experts say that the majority of books take time to build momentum.  A traditional publisher often can’t afford to give a book enough marketing attention to reach peak publicity…but I can.  Most of it just costs time.

Soon, the reviews from book bloggers will start coming in.

Soon, the book will be shelved in numerous bookstores.

And soon, we’ll go on a book tour to promote the book directly to schools.

But there have been successes along the way, instances where publishing has felt entirely glamorous.  These are the moments you live for!  Things like:

  • Bookstores immediately guessing the cover and interior (which I designed myself) were professionally done
  • Bookstores saying they’ll display the book in all sorts of prominent locations!  In the US you’d have to
    • A. have a publisher, and
    • B. be a bestseller (with a huge marketing budget) to get that sort of preference
  • Signing books for your friends
  • Hearing excitement from all quarters when you discuss the book launch party

My next post will be more about bookstores–how New Zealand bookstores work with consignment books, the successes I’ve had so far, and a few of the grim realities of bookstore business.

If you haven’t checked out The Natural Order yet, you can buy your copy now on Amazon!

Musings on the Eve of Publication

The Natural Order is officially released tomorrow.

I’ve come so far, yet I still have so far to go.  That’s a reassuring thing, in a way.  If I’d had just one plan or goal for publication, I would see that plan to completion…and then freeze.  What if that plan didn’t work?  What if it resulted in me selling all of 10 copies?  Would I give up, call this book a failure, and move on?

Even when this whole marketing deal starts toto-do-list-pic seem a bit overwhelming, I’m grateful for it.  The way I’m doing things now–throwing hundreds of darts at the wall and seeing which ones stick–I won’t be left directionless.  Even if a simple thing like submitting the book for review generates ten more tasks (signing up for a Goodreads account, making a Goodreads page, begging my early readers to post just one review, converting the book to a Mobi file, writing up a short blurb, etc.), every step I take is one that will serve me in the future.  Maybe it was annoying that I couldn’t submit to one of these bloggers until I had a Goodreads page, but I needed one anyway, so that was the nudge to get it done now.

The more I do, the more I realize how much remains to be done.

Between the release of the book and the book launch party, I’ll be inviting absolutely everyone to the party (we just visited the farmers’ market to invite vendors the other day, since they used to be associated with my cafe) and hopefully scaring up some media attention for the event.  If I could get just one journalist or reporter to attend, that would be fantastic.

After that, the real marketing slog begins.

My partner’s mother self-published a book years ago, and hers was a story of incredible success born from a great talent for marketing yet very little know-how.  She wrote a book that filled a gap in the market (a cookbook specifically aimed at teaching maids how to cook for their families–among expats living in Singapore at the time, it was a common complaint that their maids were both unsanitary and inexperienced in the kitchen).  Once published, she singlehandedly got the book into a whole host of stores frequented by expats, including a major cold-storage chain that a publisher had been trying to crack for years.

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned from her is that there’s no such  thing as aiming too high.  You might as well try everything, because there’s always a chance something highly unlikely might work out.

So far, I’ve had incredible success with New Zealand bookstores.

It seems that every bookstore owner I’ve spoken to is eager to support a local author, and willing to take my books on the spot.  I currently have physical copies of the book in two stores, with two more waiting for me to drop off copies and another three in the works.  And I haven’t been turned down outright by a single bookstore.

That gives me the courage to try for larger chains, including Whitcoulls (a stationary/book shop that mostly features Top 100 titles) and the Warehouse (a department store with a decent book selection).

And after that?  I’ll start visiting schools.

That’s part of the book tour I’ve mentioned briefly in the past.  My partner and I are hoping to drive all around the South Island, visiting bookstores in every town we come across, and stopping at schools to donate a book to their library.  When we do that, we’re hoping to leave a stack of bookmarks for kids to pick up if they’re interested.  That way they can learn more about the book…and grab a copy from their local bookstore.

Regardless of what succeeds and what fails, I have an endless list of directions to pursue.  Book publishing is not a single event–it’s a journey that can last (now that books are available online and print-on-demand) pretty much as long as you keep working at it.

On that note, here’s to the end of the pre-publication journey–and the start of an entirely new venture.

See you on the other side!