Anyone dare me to write a novel in a month…by hand…while hiking for 60 days straight??

tent writingThis is a rather random post, since I haven’t posted much lately.  I wanted to update you on my plans…some of them sensible, and some completely the opposite!

I’ve been focusing on writing a prequel and sequel to The Natural Order, plus a nonfiction book that’s due to come out before the end of October (you can sign up here if you want to know when it’s available for free!)  I’ve also been trying to get more reviews for The Natural Order, and to build a subscriber list.  My first-ever newsletter went out earlier this week; it’s a very important aspect of book-marketing that I never quite knew how to adapt to a fiction novel until recently.

A rather long walk 

Anyway, here’s the somewhat less te araroa mapsensible news: my fiance and I are planning to hike half of the Te Araroa (the hike running the length of New Zealand) from October 20th through until Christmas.  It’s been a very exciting, hectic process getting the essentials together in preparation for the hike–you never realize how little decent backpacking equipment you have until you start planning for a 60-day hike!–and in the middle of all the scrambling preparations, I’m trying to get more marketing and writing done than I usually would do in 6 usual months.

Impossible aims…

Here are all of the goals I’ve been trying to meet before our October 20th departure, now less than three weeks away:

  1. Edit and publish my nonfiction book
  2. Market said nonfiction book
  3. Finish writing 15,000-word prequel to The Natural Order
  4. Edit and publish prequel (as a permanently free teaser on Amazon)
  5. Try (and surely fail) to finish Rogue Magic, the second book in the Natural Order series
  6. Write enough newsletters that I can automate sending one every two weeks for the entire time we’re away

And novel-writing on the go!  

Oh, and you know what?  NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is in November.  While we’re hiking.

I’ve done (and won) NaNoWriMo every year for the past 7 years, so it’s actually very hard to contemplate not doing it.  Even though we’ll be hiking eight hours a day.  And camping.  And I’ll have to write by hand.  Hmm…

I may have gone a bit too far with this one.

It doesn’t sound possible, but I can’t not try.  I don’t have an idea yet, but hiking always sparks a lot of creative thoughts, so I’ll come up with something.  And I’ll try.

Here’s to mad, impossible goals!


How to Host a Successful Goodreads Giveaway

Goodreads is a network dedicated to helping readers find new books.  It’s a crucial marketing platform for authors, yet its ultimate goal isn’t so much sales as visibility.

Members of the site add books to their “to-read” lists, which means those books are lingering somewhere in the back of their consciousness, ready to be picked up as soon as someone is looking for a new title to try.

One of the easiest ways to gain visibility on Goodreads is by hosting one (or many!) giveaways.  You can choose the duration and the number of books you give away, as well as how the giveaway is displayed, so you can experiment with the most effective numbers.

After hosting a recent giveaway, The Natural Order went from 10 “to-read” shelves to 794, and a couple people have randomly asked if they can download a free copy in exchange for a review.  Beforehand, no one noticed the book; now, I have several people adding it to their “to-read” shelf each day.

Here’s how I set up the giveaway: 

  • 3 weeks’ duration
  • 2 copies given away, both signed
  • This graphic included with the giveaway post:

goodreads giveaway image

I ended up with 1,779 people requesting my book.  From scanning the other books with giveaways beginning and ending around the same time as mine, I could see that mine was one of the highest-performing titles.  The highest ended at about 3,000 requests, the second two highest around 2,000, and the rest fell in the 500-1,500-request range.

Clearly I did something right!

Part of the success of this giveaway was the cover image.  It’s a striking image, something I know would intrigue me as a reader.

Secondly, I included the large graphic as a way to draw attention to the giveaway.  The standard giveaway posting is accompanied by a tiny icon featuring the book’s cover, but with some knowledge of basic programming, you can make your giveaway stand out by including a large image (and even a link to your own website).  Click here for instructions on how to include your image.

If you want to boost your book’s visibility with a giveaway, here are a few tips for making it as successful as possible:

  1. Use that promotional image!
  2. Make sure your book has a captivating cover.  If not, try using another piece of related (but more eye-catching) artwork for your promotional image.
  3. Don’t let the giveaway drag on too long.  As you can see from thisgoodreads giveaway results graph, the most visible days are the first and last, so you end up getting by far the most requests those days.  I had 99 people and 155 on the first and last days respectively add my book to their “to-read” shelf, compared to an average of 20 through the rest of the giveaway.
  4. Give away just one book!  It doesn’t make any difference whether you give 2 or 20; you’ll get the exact same visibility with less cost if you use just 1 copy.
  5. Don’t give away a signed copy!  I discovered to my detriment how expensive it is shipping books from New Zealand.  If I had promised unsigned copies, I could have ordered them from Createspace for about $8 per copy (including shipping).  This way I ended up paying nearly $25 per copy.  Yikes!
  6. Make sure your blurb is short and riveting.  I actually didn’t include a blurb this time, thinking it would make the giveaway look too crowded, but as a reader I would definitely go for a book with a captivating blurb over one without any description.

I’ll be trying another giveaway before long, this time following my own advice, and I’ll report back on how round 2 goes!

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 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