Ideas for Making Marketing Fun

Janet Syas Nitsick and I did a video, which I’ll share below.  I’ll also write down the main points beneath the video.

Typically, marketing has boiled down to things like announcing you have a book out, saying you have a review on your book, or sharing your book’s ranking on a retailer site.  But is all that really effective when you’re trying to appeal to readers of your particular genre?  While there’s nothing wrong with informing people about these things, today we want to discuss ways of thinking outside the box when marketing.

The main question to ask yourself is this: what is going to appeal to your ideal reader?  

Think of the kind of things that interest your readers.  This isn’t included in the video, but last weekend I took an online course, and an author mentioned sharing extra tidbits with his readers about research he did that links up to his books.  One example of this would be writing about a child growing up in an orphanage.  In a newsletter, you can then share the history of a real orphanage based off research.

That aside, I’ll go to the contents of the video where Janet and I share ideas on ways to market.

Book Launch Page (or a page on your website/blog like it)

  1.  Make sure you link to every store where the reader can find your book.  One of the main reasons people don’t know you have a book on Kobo, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and Smashwords is because authors are so busy focusing on Amazon that they neglect to share links to other retailers.  If you aren’t exclusive to Amazon, help yourself get traffic to other sites.
  2. On this page, you can also include a bonus video where you discuss something about the topic.  I find this especially useful if you’re doing nonfiction, but you could do a video to go with fiction, too.  For example, I have a book launch page for a book I did on writing.  If I were to do one for a fiction book where I featured a Mandan Indian in a historical western romance, I might include a video from when I went to Mandan, North Dakota and took a video of their tribe.  Even if you don’t use a video on a page like this, you can use pictures to give your potential readers something “extra” they won’t find in the book.
  3. You might want to also put endorsements on this page.  If you’re doing nonfiction and you can get someone with a well-known name who is an expert on your topic to endorse your book, it can go a long way.  Now, I mainly work with fiction, so for me, endorsements come from the characters in the book, and I find these can have entertainment value for the potential reader. (It’s especially good if you can add some humor to it, though not all books will lend themselves to humor.)   Here’s one Janet and I did together that we mentioned in the video.  If you write series where characters from one book can show up in another, you can use them in the endorsements, too.  I notice readers love revisiting old characters whenever possible, so this provided an extra treat.
  4. Having links to share this page can be useful, too, so potential readers can tweet it, pass it along on Facebook, etc.  The more word of mouth you can get, the better.
  5. Also, if you have a gift for making a fun and interesting bio, please do.  In nonfiction, you’ll want to point out what qualifies you to write the book.  In fiction, let your personality come out.

Blog Post Ideas

  1. Character resigns or they’re not happy with what you’re doing, and they’re not shy about voicing their opinion on the blog.  Let your characters have an attitude.  The angrier they are, the better.  The other day I was watching a video on You Tube about actors who hated their own movies, and I really enjoyed this “behind the scenes” look.  I like to think of these blog posts as DVD extras the reader can enjoy.  Since I promised an example of the blog post I did where I had a character resign, here’s the post if you want to check it out.
  2. Character plays the critic.  Have fun at your own expense.   You know those negative reviews you’ve gotten or the ugly email saying you suck and why?  Take this as fuel for your blog post.  Let one of your characters come onto your blog and voice the same complaints, but do a twist on it and make it funny.   I found as soon as I had the characters voice the same complaints my critics were saying, the complaints no longer bothered me.  So in a lot of ways, this technique is very therapeutic while making others laugh.  Honestly, I believe most people are drawn to others who aren’t afraid to admit they’re not perfect.  And this will make you seem more human to your reader.
  3. Audition for another author’s book.  (And get the author to respond if you can.)  Here’s an example of the one I did for Janet’s upcoming book.  This is all fun, of course, and I think it can help readers see us as real people when we take a chance by appearing in pictures or video as ourselves in some quirky or unusual way.  If there are bloopers, share them.  Bloopers are some of the funnest things to watch.  Here’s an example of the one where Janet and I were together (and yes, there really was a spider in the room.)  If you want to take it a step further, are your characters happy you spent time focusing on another author’s book?  Or might they feel betrayed?  What kind of video or blog post might that lead to?

Got ideas on making marketing fun that we didn’t think of?  Please share them below.  The more ideas we have, the better.

P.J. Boox: A Bookstore for Indie Authors

Remember in May of last year, when I reported on Gulf Coast Bookstore, a bookstore in Fort Myers, Florida that showcased the works of independent authors in the Florida area? Well, recently I was contacted through my Facebook page by one of the co-owners of the store with some very interesting news about Gulf Coast. Apparently since the store opened, it’s done rather well. In fact, it’s done so well that it’s expanded. And it’s expanded into P.J. Boox.

Opening in October of last year, PJ Boox currently houses 260 authors from about 11 countries, and plans to grow that number to 500 by the time they hit full capacity, each author getting to display ten of their books in the store. The way the store displays the books allows for readers to get a full look at the books’ covers, which allows readers to make a more powerful connection with the books. And the most interesting and exciting part, at least in my humble opinion, is that authors can actually interact with readers, from anywhere in the world, via Skype or other video-chat options, all in the store’s reading room (so if your book is featured by a book club, you can actually hear what the readers say. Hopefully that’s a good thing).

According to store co-founder and co-owner Patti Brassard Jefferson, the idea of PJ Boox came to her soon after she opened Gulf Coast Bookstore. Within a couple of months, she was apparently “inundated” with messages from authors. This inspired the idea for a larger bookstore that could host more indie and small-press authors. Thus we have PJ Boox today. And while other bookstores for indie authors have since appeared in other cities around the US, PJ Boox and its owners still manage to be trendsetters among the group.

So now to answer the most important question: how does an author get their books in the store? According to PJ Boox’s website, it’s actually quite simple. What you do is rent out space in the store for four months and send them up to ten of your books. In exchange, the store will stock and sell the books. And you get a majority of the royalties back (98% for in-store sales, 80% for online sales). Top that, Amazon! And you can pay for certain upgrades on your rental that include special online options and even more shelf space in the store. It’s not a bad deal, especially since you get some great exposure in the store.

In fact, I might have to try this once my new book comes out later this year. It might expose people to my sci-fi series.

And if you want to learn more about PJ Boox, check out their website for rental rates, books by great indie authors, and information on upcoming events.

Tackling Common Issues That Can Overwhelm Writers

Lorna Faith invited me on to her podcast, Create a Story You Love, to discuss topics that we will most likely face at one time or another as writers.  Below I will hit on the highlights of the interview, but you can listen to it all by going to iTunes, her blog post, or by watching the You Tube video below.

I want to give a special thanks for Lorna Faith for having me on her podcast.  I know a lot of work went into it.

I’m going to highlight and embellish some of the interview below, but I’m not doing a word-by-word transcript of it.

Why write?

One of the best reasons to write is because you have a story you’re dying to read that hasn’t been done yet.  But, you might find opposition when you decide to pursue writing this story.  (Even if you have a backlist already, people in your circle might not be supportive of the story you have in mind.  My family still won’t touch my romances.)  I would advise you to write the story anyway.  No one but you can write your story.  You will bring your own unique voice and twists to it that no one else can do.  That’s one of the beauties of working in a creative field.  Your story is as unique as your fingerprint.

Working backwards to create a writing/publishing schedule.

I like to work backwards.  This is a method where you pick your release dates and then work your way back to what you need to do to get there.  One reason I love pre-orders is because it forces me to put down deadlines.  I estimate out three months longer for each book than I think it’ll actually take for me to get it done.

The further out you can set these deadlines, the better you can get organized on what you need to do.

For example, let’s say I put July 20 as a release date for a 60,000-word novel.

  1.  I figure it’ll take my editing team (two editors and 2-3 beta readers) a month to do their job.  So I have to have my book ready for my editing team on June 1.
  2. I contact my editors and cover artist to let them know my time frame for the book so they have enough time to pencil me into their schedules.  (The more advance notice you can give them, the smoother things are.)
  3. From there, I’ll count down how many words I need to write a day in that story in order to have it ready on June 1.  Today (as I’m writing this), it is Feb. 7.
  4. I write 5 days a week.  The 2 days off are either catch up days (say a kid gets sick and I can’t write) or it’s a day to take a break to avoid burnout.  Either way, I give myself 2 days a week to take a breather of some sort.  This way I don’t stress myself out.
  5. Counting back from May 31, I find I have 81 days of actual writing to get this book done as long as I start on Monday, Feb. 8.  (I like to work Monday through Friday when my kids are in school.)
  6. I divide the 81 days I have to write by the 60,000 word count goal.  This is 740.74.  Or 741 words a day I need to hit for each writing day.
  7. If I remove all the distractors (internet, TV, phone calls), I can write 741 words in 45 minutes, but I’ll allow myself an hour.
  8. If I’m overwhelmed by the thought of writing the 741 words on a certain day, I’ll start with a small goal of 250 words.  From there, I’ll add another 250 words.  Then I’ll add in the rest to finish up 741.  250 words is a lot less intimidating than a higher word count.
  9. When I get to chapter 10 in the story, I’ll start the initial round of edits.  I will edit 2 chapters a night. Doing this will ensure I have a second draft ready to go by the day I finish my book.  It takes me about an hour to edit 2 chapters.  I need it quiet and distraction-free when I do this.  I usually start while I brush my teeth and finish up in the bedroom while everyone else is in the living room.
  10. I hand in my second draft to my editing team at the same time.  (If I was a beginning writer, I would separate these out, but I have over 50 full-length books by now and am familiar with my process to make this work.  If you’re starting out, give yourself 3-4 months of edits so you can go and change things your editing team finds.)
  11. While the editing team is working on my book, I give it another read through, again doing this in the evenings.
  12. I give myself about 3 weeks for the finished version of the book to be uploaded via Smashords and Amazon to hit my pre-order date.  You can upload 10 days in advance and be fine, but I like to have it in for a longer period of time to play it safe.

Writing a character that is emotionally engaging.

The key to writing the emotionally engaging character is to write with our hearts instead of our head.  I have since done a couple of blog posts on this topic, so I’ll let you read those if interested.   Introduction to the Emotionally Engaging Character, Point of View, and A Deeper Look Into Point of View.

Marketing for Introverts

  1.  Pick 2-3 social things you are interested in doing.  If you’re interested in it, chances are you’ll stick with it.
  2. Build relationships and get to know people.  Sometimes you can bounce ideas around for a future book and get an idea of what your audience wants.
  3. Use your profile to let people know you have books and where to find them.
  4. Build an email list.  (I use MailChimp.)
  5. Bookbub will let you create an author profile where you can list your books.  People can follow you and be notified when you have a new book out.
  6. Book Launch pages will let you link to all retailers where you have a book up for pre-order.  When your book is out, simply update the page.
  7. Use back matter in your book to advertise your next book and email list.

When things get tough, what can you do?

Focus on the positive feedback you’ve gotten in emails, in blog comments, on Facebook, and through other avenues.  Reminding yourself that people out there do like your work can really help you get through the rough patches of bad reviews and lack of sales.  If you have some writer friends you can talk to about the ups and downs of the business, you’ll remind yourself you’re not alone.  Sometimes it helps to know you’re not the only person going through the downside of this business.

Ultimately, though, it all boils down to whether you (as the writer) like the book?  Would you write the book again if given the chance?  If you enjoy the book, that book was worth writing, and it has value.

How I Could’ve Done A Better Sale

Back in September I wrote an article about when was the best time to publish a book. That article also mentioned some opportune times to host some sales. Going off the advice of that article and my previous sale experience, I decided to host a sale around New Year’s, which is apparently a very good time to hold such a sale.

To my surprise and slight consternation, I did not sell as many books–digital or paperback–as I thought I would. I did get some good sales, including from friends and colleagues, but it was far lower than I expected, to the point that I put more money into the sale than I got back.

I’ve been spending the time since trying to figure out where I went wrong and what I could do to improve my next sale and ad campaign (probably when I publish a novel later this year). Below are the conclusions that I’ve come to, which I hope will give you some help if you hold a sale in the future.

I used only Facebook ads. In another previous post, I showed that Facebook ads could be extremely helpful in spreading the word about sales. This time though, they didn’t prove as helpful. While the likes on my Facebook page did increase from 383 to over twelve-hundred, not many of those people did buy a book. That’s because Facebook is already a free service, we get so much content from it for free. Sure, you may see ads for products on it, and you may like the pages of those products, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to buy it. You’re more likely to ignore an ad from a free service anyway, even when you’re confronted with it over and over (which is probably why I’ve never bought something advertised before my YouTube video).

So next time, I should try formats other than or in addition to Facebook. Yes, it’s a useful site to advertise and attract a fan base, but to rely solely on it wasn’t one of my better moves. Next time, I’ll look into using other platforms, including Twitter and KDP Amazon (yeah, KDP Amazon allows you to advertise through it. I heard the costs were huge, but maybe if they are, it might be worth it to advertise through a site where people are already there presumably to buy products).

I cast too wide a net. When you set up an ad campaign, you can decide who the ad is targeted towards based on criteria like age, interests and hobbies, sex, and several others. One of the main criteria though is country or countries. I wanted to get as many people to see the ad as possible, so I tried targeting as many countries as I could where Amazon operated in (most of my sales come through Amazon). Problem is, while Amazon does operate in those countries, it may not be as big as other retailers there. So when I cast a wide net, I cast a net where people would see the ad but may not buy. Meanwhile, there may have been people in more Amazon-strong countries that would’ve bought my books if they saw the ads, but didn’t because of the wide focus.

Plus some of the countries I targeted don’t have English as a first language. Yes, English is spoken there by a wide swath of the population, but it’s not a dominant language by any means. And most of my sales are from English speaking countries anyway, probably since my books are in English.

So in the future, I will try to focus on countries where most people do buy from Amazon, but English is a spoken by a majority of the population.

Include links. This should’ve been pretty obvious to me. I didn’t include links on two out of three of my ads though, expecting the readers to head over there out of curiosity and look themselves. I don’t think that’s what actually happened in real life. So if you’re going to do an ad, make sure a link or two is already present.

 

If this helped you at all, my job here is done. Sales and ad campaigns are never easy and don’t always yield the results you want, but if you learn from others and go through trial and error, they can on occasion bring in a very nice pay day.

What tips do you have for a successful sale/ad campaign?

My Thoughts on the Smashwords 2015 Survey

In case anyone doesn’t know, once a year, Mark Coker does a survey to track sales across their distribution channels to see what common things the bestselling self-published books have in common.

Here’s the link if you want to view the slideshow

I wanted to import the slideshow into this post, but my tech know-how isn’t all that wonderful.  So I opted to link to it for reference.

I thought some of the findings were worth discussing on this blog.  If anyone wants to add their thoughts in the comments below, please do.  There might be something I missed.

Observation #1: Authors who sell more books tend to be active online.

social media pic for writing post
ID 45771480 © Ayse Ezgi Icmeli | Dreamstime.com

This isn’t 100% true for all commercially successful authors, but overall, being involved online helps to sell your books.  When I say being active, I don’t mean these authors are going around posting tweets and Facebook updates with “Here’s my book and where you can buy it” all the time.  Those authors usually don’t sell well.

Having an online presence means you’re making it easy for people to find you and your books.  A website and/or blog is a great way to showcase your work.  I like to think of them as “home”.  It’s where you can put your books up and talk about them.  Now, what you choose to blog about can vary, but I do suggest having your books featured on pages within your blog, if you have one.

As for places like Twitter, Facebook, and Google +, the big thing is to be social.  Hang out.  Engage with others.  Be conversational.  You can have a link to your website/blog on your profile.  If someone takes an interest in something you say, they’re probably going to check your profile.  So make sure you build up those profile pages.  My advice is to let the profile pages do your marketing for you.  But when you’re engaging with people on these sites, don’t be there to sell your books.  (Now, I do recommend letting people know when the book is first put up on pre-order, if you have a cover reveal, or when it’s released, but keep the marketing to a minimum.  At least 80% should be social engagement that has nothing to do with your books.)

Observation #2: For fiction, price points $2.99, and $3.99 seem to be the best, with $3.99 having a slight more advantage.

pricing strategy
ID 45771480 © Ayse Ezgi Icmeli | Dreamstime.com

The $0.99 price point moves books, and I think it can be used for promotions and even as a loss leader to introduce people to your work.  But I do think if you are looking for profit, your best price points are in the $2.99-$3.99 range.

I suspect the sweet spot for pricing also varies with the genre you’re writing in fiction.  I mainly write romance.  I’ve heard romance readers watch their spending because they can go through a book or two a day.  I’ve also heard other genres (such as thrillers and science fiction) have readers who are more likely to pay a higher price for books than romance readers are.  These were not discussed in this Smashwords survey.  These are things I gathered from talking with other authors over the years.  So for me, I keep my books priced low ($0.99 or $2.99), though some romance authors do better at higher prices.

What seems to be clear from this survey and the one from 2014 is $1.99 is a horrible price for a book.  I would stay clear from that price point based on the findings.

Nonfiction can sell higher than fiction.  What the ideal price point for that is, I don’t know.

Observation #3: Pre-orders can help you sell more books.

preorder plan for writing post
ID 45771480 © Ayse Ezgi Icmeli | Dreamstime.com

In the survey, it seems a book that starts out as a pre-order will do 3.5 times better than a book that wasn’t.  Do authors who have a larger platform with a larger readership have a bigger advantage over those that don’t?  Of course.  But that is going to be normal even if there was no pre-order.

I love pre-orders, but I don’t see massive pre-orders on my books flooding in.  I don’t think it’s realistic to expect that.  You can increase your chances of hitting a bestselling list in your category at iBooks or Kobo the longer you have your book available as a pre-order.  iBooks and Kobo will accumulate the pre-orders, so when your book is released, you get credited for all those pre-orders as if you sold that many copies on that day.  I love that feature.  Amazon doesn’t do that, and I don’t think Barnes & Noble does either.

My thinking is, if you can give yourself an advantage, even if it’s a small one, why not take it?  Pre-orders are easy to do, and they help save time on release date since the book is already uploaded.  I wrote a post on ideas on promoting a pre-order.  (As always, if you can think of anything else to add, please do.  One person in the comments suggested a special promotional price during the pre-order period, which I thought was a good idea.  I might have to use that one in the future.)

Observation #4: Series where the first book is free sell 66% better than series where the first book has a price tag on it.

comic for writing blog post
ID 45771480 © Ayse Ezgi Icmeli | Dreamstime.com

This one surprised me the most.  The 66% trend was higher than I expected.  I have heard authors say putting the first book at free has helped sell the rest of the books in their series.  But I also know authors who have had their first book at free and didn’t see an increase in sales for the other books in the series.  I have priced the first book of every series I have at free.  Some series do better than others.  Overall, I have noticed the series does do better if the first book is free, even if it’s not a huge jump in sales.

I just listened to a podcast at The Creative Penn, and Dan Wood from Draft2Digital recommends using this strategy, too.  He found authors who do this sell 3 times as much as authors who don’t.  (As a side note, he recommends assetless pre-orders, too, which I just talked about above.)

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Those are the takeaways I got from the Smashwords 2015 survey.  Does anyone have any other ones or have anything to add?  There might have been something I missed.

Finding a Narrator on ACX

Many of you may remember the article I wrote on using Audiobook Creation Exchange, or ACX, which helps authors who want to put their books into audio form meet narrators and then get them onto Amazon. Well, about four months ago, after a lot of thought and getting feedback from some of my friends, family members and readers, I decided to get one of my own novels turned into an audio book. This past Saturday I finally found a narrator and finalized a deal with him.

Based on my experiences over the past four months, I thought I’d write another article for anyone thinking about using ACX to produce an audio book. This time, I’ve got tips on how to find your narrator.

First, don’t expect narrators to come looking for you. We like to imagine that the clamor to be the narrator of our audio book is like a bunch of knights taking on quests of courage and valor in order to win the hand of a princess, but in reality it’s more like you’re the princess’s father or mother and you’re writing various knights and princes to get them interested in your darling daughter. Believe me, even if narrators are proactive about finding projects to work on—and many of them are—there are new books being uploaded onto ACX every day, and yours can become quickly lost among the others.

The best thing an author on ACX can do—especially if your name isn’t JK Rowling, George RR Martin, or Harper Lee—is actively seek their own narrator. ACX has several thousand narrators, many with multiple audio samples for you to listen to and decide if someone is right for you. And you can narrow down your choices based on specific factors you’re looking for: age, gender, language, accent, and even what sort of payment they’re willing to take. When you find one you like, you can message them and invite them to submit an audition for your book if they’re interested.

Just keep in mind, really good narrators or ones who can do difficult accents can be hard to get sometimes. For my own novel, I needed someone who can do an American Urban accent, and when I first started searching the number of samples for that sort of accent was over three-hundred. Sounds like I could have my pick of the lot, right? Wrong! After eliminating narrators I didn’t like or I felt didn’t fit what I was looking for, I found that a lot of narrators who could do an American Urban accent were either busy or they charged for their services. In fact, one narrator told me after I told her I couldn’t afford to pay her that a lot of the best narrators or those who can do particular accents often charged for up-front payments and royalty shares.

That’s not to say you can’t find a great narrator who can do a difficult accent or voice who fits your budget or needs. I found one who is good at what he does and was willing to meet my needs. It just took a lot of work to find the guy.

You also have to sometimes deal with the fact that sometimes particular vocal styles, languages, or accents may not have a lot of people who can read them. I played around with the search tools a bit, and found that only twenty-two samples came up when I looked for samples of Japanese accents read by women or men attempting to sound like women. I wonder how much they charge.

Another thing to be aware of while searching for a narrator is that some books get stipends. This was something I learned while searching for my narrator. Twice in the first two weeks a book is available for auditions on ACX, it is evaluated to see if it is eligible for a stipend based on factors such as reviews, past print and e-book sales, and length. Especially length. The longer the better. If your book receives a stipend, then even if you can only afford to do the royalty share option, your narrator will receive some money after the completion of the project from Audible, ACX’s parent company. How much depends on how long the book is, usually $100 for every completed hour of audio and up to $2500. Books that are stipend eligible are marked by a green banner on the book’s profile page.

Now my book wasn’t marked stipend eligible, but it’s something to keep in mind. ACX actually recommends waiting during the first two weeks to see if your book is eligible for stipend. Though perhaps that may only be feasible for that five-hundred plus page novel that’s been selling like hotcakes you published a while back.

I have two final points to make. One, is to be aware that ACX sometimes loses messages sent through its system. This is something I learned ACX has a problem with. Messages sent to me or that I sent would sometimes disappear into the ether and I wouldn’t know if I wasn’t hearing back because the other person’s life has gotten crazy busy, or because once again the system gobbled the message up. Just a heads-up so you know when you wonder why the enthusiastic narrator you came across hasn’t gotten back to you after a week even though previous messages have always been returned in two or three days.

And finally, don’t stress out if you don’t have immediate success finding someone. It took me from early August to late November to find my narrator, and I spent quite a lot of lunch breaks looking through ACX’s databases. It can be grating if you don’t hear back from someone, or if someone you thought was a good match doesn’t pan out, or nobody you come across you like. That’s just sometimes how things work out. If you need to, take a break and worry about other stuff. When you come back, you may find things will go quite well for you.

What tips do you have for finding a narrator on ACX? How did you find yours?

Announcing a Conference Dedicated to Indie Authors!

I just found out about this in a Facebook group and am passing it on.

expo for indies

This is from Feb. 12-13, and it’s only $135. (The price includes Friday reception, 2 meals Saturday, and info-packed syllabus.)  This is a great deal.  I’m not sure if I can make it, but I wanted to pass it along in case anyone happens to live around NE Texas.

Click this link or the picture above for more information!

What I Learned About Facebook Parties

Like many of us, I hang out on Facebook too much. While perusing the streams (and my own invites) I’ve come across many events, including  Facebook Parties. Though I accept many invites (by clicking the Join button), I’ve personally participated in roughly two author parties (by commenting on one post each) and several jewelry parties. Being a Facebook Party Host virgin, I was a bit unprepared for my party, so I wanted to share some things I learned.

1 – What is a Facebook party? A Facebook party is an event that takes place for anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days (I set mine to last for six days. Oh my.) There are games, puzzles, giveaways and (hopefully) lots of author/fan interactions. Sometimes authors share parties. Many authors have a third party organize and run their party. I’m thrifty, so I did it myself. (If you’d like to see an example party, this is the link to mine.)

2 – To set up a Facebook party first choose a date at least one month in advance (I’ll explain later) and then choose your theme – I’m going to guess it’s for a book release, so that should be pretty easy. Go to your Events menu option (click “events” on the left side on a PC) and then use the blue Create button. In order to make Facebook recognize that your party lasts multiple days, you need to put in a starting time. 

3 – You need at *least* one month to get everything organized! Because this is the *only* giveaway/event I’m planning for several months I went a bit crazy on the prizes, so not only was there time to plan what all the games would be and make all the graphics, but I needed to wait for everything to arrive so that I had all the prizes ready to be mailed after the party was over. I actually started ordering prizes in August for my October Party.

4 – Speaking of Prizes…  You will want to give things away. Most author parties I’ve seen do some ebooks or autographed books, or an amazon gift card as a grand prize. As I said I have participated all of twice in these parties (no offense guys!) but if I’m a fan then it’s a pretty good chance I already have those books, and if I’m not a fan I probably have a kindle crammed full of books I paid for, so those free books have the potential to land at the bottom of my TBR list. Unless the book really catches my eye, I’m not going to bother entering that game (I will enter for signed paperbacks from authors I love, however, because those I rarely own). But, play a game with the prize of a piece of jewelry (A lot of which you can buy for $.99 on eBay) or nail polish, or stickers, and I’m more likely to play. I’m not a unique person, so I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t offer autographed bookmarks, or even those free ebooks as prizes, but pepper it in with some little fun stuff that appeals to your ideal audience. (Though we do want to have fun with our readers, the goal of a party is to endear ourselves to them and get new ones – and new people will be turned off if the event and prizes feels exclusive to current fans). My theme was my vampire series -that is primarily written in a female POV -so jewelry and nail polish were popular items, but so were the more unisex “vampire” items such as bloody hand print decals and a cool vampire baseball hat.

5. Prizes don’t need to be expensive. I mentioned the $.99 jewelry on ebay. My grand prize was a set of awesome dolls I traded some art work for, and with the exception of the paperback version of the Amaranthine Handbook, none of the items cost more than 5$ and most were $.99 to $1.50. But, that cheap stuff comes with loooooong shipping times (read, it comes from China), so again, leave plenty of time between concept and party time. Also, people don’t care so much WHAT they’re winning, just that they are winning. I posted several “random” games where the tagline said “I have no idea what you’ve won. It may be from a gumball machine” and people still entered because they just wanted to win something. (Plus, some of us love the grab bag random idea. I do.)

6. Not every thread needs a prize. My guests had so much fun talking to each other that they were happy to share and chat on question posts, even with no prize attached. (Things like “What are you doing for Halloween” or “What’s a memory you have from school”?) In fact, we had so much fun we’re having a chat get together on November 13th – no prizes, just a group of vampire lovers hanging out for a few hours.

7. Have all your links/sites/info/social sites ready to go. One question I kept getting asked (that I did not anticipate!) was where to get my books in paperback. Each book page on my website has a link, but giving people a list of links is annoying for both of us, so half way through the party I had to take half an hour and code a quick page (which looks bad, but got the job done) listing all those links. Don’t make my mistake. Have your info ready to go.

8.Have your games ready ahead of time. I made graphics for all of my games, but you don’t need to. Either way, name your graphics in numerical order or write them out IN ORDER in a word document so that on party day you can copy and paste them in. This prevents hurried typos and makes you feel less stressed. Also, match up which prizes go with which games, and if you want to post photos of the prizes, take those ahead of time, too, and save everything in a folder together.

9. Choose a variety of Games. Some examples of Facebook “games” we played

  •  A scavenger hunt – the first person to find images of a list of items/or to find keywords or the answers to questions in a book excerpt wins – this one went *really* fast and did not generate much chatter, so I only recommend it for lightning rounds.
  • Question answering – such as “Would you say yes to immortality” or “What is your favorite vampire movie?” People are there to connect with you BUT everyone’s favorite topic is always themselves. I got more responses on the Question style games than any other, and the less specific the question, the better, for example the “Name an interesting fact” had the most entrants. These generate a LOT of chatter and keep the party active.
  • What is your __ name? – These are those charts where you use your birthday and the last letter of your last name to find out what your sparkle fairy or Christmas elf name is. For my party I let people discover their vampire names, their vampire author pen names, and their Amaranthine book titles. These may involve making graphics, unless you can find some pre-made ones that fit your theme. These were the second most popular games, but they generated moderate chatter – after guests had found their name ans the names of spouses or friends, there wasn’t much left to say.
  • Picture Games – these can be anything from “Who should play X character in a movie?” to “Show us a picture of your pet.”  I used “Find a funny vampire picture”, “Share the fifth picture in your gallery”, and “Find your ideal vampire mate” among others. I found that these were the best when you let people post multiple times – for instance the “Share your photo from your gallery” devolved into a thread of pet photos – and that’s okay! The point was to have fun, not be a forum enforcer. This generated a lot of chat, too, but some people had trouble posting pictures.
  • Number picking games – these games usually involve an image that ties in to your theme, with each item being numbered, for instance:
Jorick is throwing pumpkins at a character he doesn't like.
Jorick is throwing pumpkins at a character he doesn’t like. 6 was the winner.

A number has been pre-selected by you, and when someone chooses that numbered “item” they are the winner. This game went slow by luck because the winning number was the last one picked, but it has the potential to go super fast and it doesn’t generate chat.

  • Last but not least are puzzle games. Puzzle games ask the guests to solve a riddle of some sort – find the differences in the pictures or find the hidden funnies in a paragraph, etc. For my genre and guests I found that these kind of games were the least popular (we played one and had three participants which contrasts to the normal 17-30), but if you’re a mystery author, for instance, your audience might love them.
  • Of note: I did NOT do the ever popular “invite your friends and win” game because A) I don’t like it because it’s a popularity contest that bloats your numbers with people who are probably not really going to attend and B) I have never had a good response to it on any of my previous giveaways. Nor did I do the “Share this to win” because, again, I have never had worthwhile results. If you have in the past then this kind of game might work for you.

If you don’t know what kind of games to use, then experiment on your facebook ahead of time (I started my experiments in June). You can use either your personal page, or your author page, but post some different style games over a few weeks and see which ones your potential party attendees respond to the most.

10. Invite (most of) your Facebook friends. There’s nothing wrong with skipping those you know don’t like invites, but at the same time you might be surprised. I had two friends who were literally upset because I didn’t invite them, and two of my biggest commenters/participants were people I invited on a whim and didn’t expect to stop in. BUT, at the same time, don’t annoy people. This is a delicate line and one you just have to feel out for yourself.

11. No matter how much you advertise people will still miss it. I mentioned those two friends – one did not even know I was having a party until it started, despite the invite, multiple blog posts, newsletters, facebook posts, and contests that started two months before the party, because somehow they just “didn’t see it” – and with Facebook cutting down on post visibility and people’s busy lives, I believe it. I know I miss things a lot of the time. In other words I’m saying don’t be offended if someone doesn’t show up.

12. Joins, maybes, and actual appearances. I don’t know what other authors stats are (I assume many have better turnouts than I did) but I can tell you mine. I had 10 maybes, 89 going and 303 who ignored the invitations (Not all invited by me). Of those 99 (maybes and goings) I had 65 who actually participated, and of those 7 only posted once (or on one game). 2 of those were maybe attendees, and the other 63 came from the “going” pool.  What I’m saying is don’t feel bad if your “going” count is much higher than the actual participation. There are a lot of people out there who click “going” to everything (like I do because I figure it helps people pad their numbers) or who meant to go or who went but were too intimidated/shy to post, or, especially if you used that “invite to win” game, who clicked going to satisfy/help a friend.

13. Explain the rules first thing. At the beginning of the party make sure to post how the party is going to work, and if the party runs for multiple days, remind them each day (it may be the fist time a guest is joining you). Also, on each game do a quick rundown of that game’s rules, including how long it will run for (one hour, two hours, until someone finds the right answer), how the winner will be chosen, and how to play (even if it seems obvious to you).

14. Make closed games and winners clear. When a game closes, make sure to comment on the game (and even better edit the original post) to say that the game is closed so latecomers don’t feel like they’ve wasted their time when they later stumble on the winner post. Also make sure your winners KNOW they won. Tag them if you can (On the phone app you can tag people who are not on your friends list or in the join list, so long as they have commented on the thread previously – but you can’t tag them in new posts. On the computer they have to be your friend or else a guest to be taggable at all.) Send them a message congratulating them, asking for their address, telling them when you plan to send prizes, and thanking them for coming.

15. Keep a list of the winners. I had a word document with each prize listed. Under it, I put their name and, when I got it, their address, so when the time came to send prizes I could just start at the top. If the same person won multiple prizes I moved that item’s name up to their previous entry. You may have a different or better way. The important thing is to keep this organized.

16. Keep the conversation flowing. Just like any good party, conversation is where it’s at. These people are your fans for a reason – your writing resonates with them, meaning that you probably have things in common. Yes, this is your party, but making it all about YOU is the fastest way to bore guests. Instead, make it about THEM. Get to know what they like, what they don’t like, places they’ve been, other franchises they enjoy. Not only could this be used as a goldmine of data for tracking exactly what kind of people like what you’re putting out, but it also makes you seem cool and interested AND frankly it’s fun. If you’re a lucky author with several hundred participants, this may be harder to do, but I still suggest you give it a try.

17. Let guests ask questions. Not just to you but to your characters (if you write a series or book that this works with). This is especially great if you write a series because it lets you see your fan’s opinions of your characters; what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong. Does everyone hate the villain? Is the hero resonating with them? What are they asking about (aka what do they want to see more of?)?

18. But, remember, it’s not just about YOU. I mentioned this in point sixteen, but I’ll say it again. Sure, it’s your party, but don’t make it a boring party. Invite guest authors you think your fans might like. If you have guests that run businesses that might appeal to your fans, showcase them. (For instance I have one who runs jewelry parties, and with jewelry being popular with my guests, and also given as prizes, it was a natural to include her contact info).

19. Be ready for spontaneity. Yes, have your games and prizes planned, but be flexible. If you have extra bookmarks, for instance, and you get a lot of participants in a game giving a set away, maybe do a second, or even third round to offer others a chance. Let your guests guide the party. For instance I had a guest who spontaneously started sharing images of what she thought the characters looked like, so I showcased that post and asked for other people’s opinions and we had a lot of fun with it. You can even do random games with random prizes (my random winners got string people keychains from the grocery store gumball machine – literally).

20. Leave yourself time to run your party. I stupidly thought (considering my usual turn out for things) that I would have the same ten gusts I had for my past blog event (which was three years ago) and so I’d be able to log in once an hour and then spend the rest of the time working on my book. During peak time (9 am – 11am and 7pm to 9pm central) I was pretty much glued to the event page to keep up. The rest of the time I did get some other things done, but the whole thing took a lot more time than I thought it would and a the slowest I had to check in every half hour. (Luckily I’d set up to enjoy that time writing, so I had the it free). Be prepared to be on a lot and if you’re only available for a certain time a day, then schedule the events for that time. Nothing is worse than a party without a host. On a side note, I don’t recommend trying to do a six day party by yourself. If I do another it will probably only be two days.

21. Budget enough money to mail those prizes! As I mentioned, I went nuts with prizes because I didn’t do a blog tour with my last release, and I’m not planning one for my next book. (That’s another post in itself). I had twenty-five planned prizes, seven random surprises, and four sets of bookmarks (I offered bookmarks to anyone who had played a game but not won anything). Add in a pair of thank you cards and I spent $58.00 in postage. Wowsers. Because of that I had to split the mailing up and some prizes went out a week later than I had planned. While I don’t think anyone is upset about it, you want to make sure that you’re not ending up with a cost you can’t cover that makes you look like an irresponsible author who doesn’t follow through.

22. Most of all have fun! Because if you’re not having fun, your guests aren’t having fun.  Don’t stress over details (I posted the wrong game at one point and blamed it on one of my characters), don’t feel bad if you have dull, quiet times (I found that 11 – 12:30pm things died, then picked up until 2pm where they petered down slowly until 5pm when it died again until 7), don’t be crazy about rules (games are supposed to be fun!) and most of all don’t bite off more than you can chew or you may find yourself having a facebook breakdown.

BONUS: For those who want graphics for their party but can’t make them (marketing statistics say that a post with an image catches the eye much quicker than a text post and I believe it) then here are some places to get images:

  • random vector style pics: http://www.vectorportal.com/ – I used owls, a TV, and other images for random games. Right click on the images and SAVE AS – do NOT download as they will be zip files of image types that facebook won’t let you post.
  • Text-based images: http://cooltext.com/ & http://glowtxt.com/ – I used these for headlines for random threads, but you could use them to punch up winner posts, or even to draw attention to game posts.
  • photos: http://search.creativecommons.org/ search the Flickr option for photos you can use via Creative Commons license. Be sure to leave a comment of credit under the image with a link to the photographers photo stream – it’s just good karma.

 

Have you hosted a Facebook party? Do you have any tips to share with us? 

 

A Case for Pre-Orders

Whether you do a pre-order or not is up to you, but I thought I’d take time to discuss the advantages of them in case you’re wondering if they’re worth it or not.

Why do Pre-Orders?

ID 44483490 © Yuryz | Dreamstime.com
ID 44483490 © Yuryz | Dreamstime.com

Make things easier.

I had done some pre-orders last year, and I took for granted how much easier it made my life.  It wasn’t until I published two books this spring that I realized how much work goes into putting up a book on release day.  Worse, I was uploading directly to Kobo and Barnes & Noble instead of using Smashwords to take care of that for me.  I always upload directly to Amazon and Smashwords, even with pre-orders.  With pre-orders, I use Smashwords to deliver the books to all the channels that will take pre-orders (including Barnes & Noble and Kobo).  I have always used Smashwords to go to iBooks and the other channels.

Anyway, when I was uploading to Smashwords with my most recent book (after I had already uploaded to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo earlier that day), I looked at the clock and realized I had spent the better part of my entire day uploading to all these sites and making sure every page was there in the preview.  I had to go back and correct a couple of formatting errors, so that also slowed down my process.  Then Barnes & Noble wanted a smaller size book cover than the other channels did, which took some time to resize the image my cover artist had given me.

It was when I was uploading to Smashwords that I had a lightning bolt moment.  “This uploading to all these different sites sucks.”  By doing everyone at one place, I had saved myself a lot of time…and a massive headache.

Save on time.

When I was doing those pre-orders, I had the final version up and ready to go well before the release date.  All I did was plug the metadata information and manuscript into KDP (which had already been done ahead of time because of all the work I’d already done at Smashwords).  Then Smashwords distributed it everywhere for me.  So all I had to do at Amazon was upload there, and it took thirty minutes (including the time I took to make sure everything was formatted correctly).

Then I could send out the email list and post the information on my blog and update my website.  When I uploaded everything to all four sites on the same day, I was too tired to do updates or the email list.  I had to wait for the next day.

I got to be honest.  I love assetless pre-orders on Smashwords.  They are awesome time savers.  If you have no cover yet, you don’t need to put it up.  Instead, you can upload the metadata (the title, the description, the categories, keywords) and the release date.  You can also go back and change the title if you want.  My advice is to estimate further out than you expect you’ll have the book, though you can always push it back if you need to.

I hesitate to use Amazon for pre-orders.  I’ve heard some stories where an author didn’t do something right and they got banned from doing any more pre-orders for some time (it was a year, I think).  I know there are advantages to doing them on Amazon, but I’m afraid I would slip and risk getting banned from it.  So I’d rather just use Smashwords.  Smashwords is mistake proof, and for people like me who make mistakes from time to time, it makes me feel a lot better.

Build Up Sales Prior to Release Date

Kobo and iBooks will accumulate the sales and apply it to the release date.  So all the pre-order sales will show up as if they were made on release day.  That will add on top of the sales actually made on the release day.  This gives you better potential to show up on a category list at the store.

Amazon doesn’t do it this way.  Amazon will build up the sales up to the release date, but on the release date, you start back at 0.  It’s the actual sales you make that day that count for the day.  I’m not sure if I’m making sense on this distinction or not.  To me, this is a potential con to doing pre-orders over there, but I’ve heard some convincing arguments that pre-orders on Amazon can still be worthwhile.  (For example, your first reviews are more likely to be from fans who bought it on pre-order.)  So you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons and decide if it’s a good choice for you.  My publisher is going to try pre-orders on Amazon with two of my books, so we’ll see what happens.

In closing, I’d love to know your thoughts on pre-orders.

Do you see other pros I didn’t?  Do you see some cons?  (Though I didn’t list them, I know there are some cons.) Have pre-orders been worth it to you?  Was pre-ordering ineffective?  Any advice you’d like to give about doing pre-orders effectively?  The more input we have, the better we can help answer other people’s questions.

And if you have any questions, please ask.  I might not know the answer, but maybe someone commenting will and can answer the question.  As they say, “Two heads are better than one.”

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Next time, I’ll discuss ideas on how to market a pre-order.

When Should You Release a New Book?

Recently I wondered what the best time to release a new book was. Obviously you would want to release something scary prior to Halloween, something romantic right before Valentine’s Day, something full of snow and holiday cheer right before Christmas, etc. But what about the rest of the year? Are there days that are lucky for self-published authors? Is there a time of year that can help you get more copies into people’s hands? I was determined to find out.

Now despite my best efforts, I only have three books out at the moment (though I am working on getting more out soon), so I couldn’t rely on just my own experience ot answer this question. So when in doubt, I do what I normally do: ask the writing groups I belong to on Facebook. The answers I got were quite informative.

Of course there were the tips to release seasonal stuff around their seasons, but there was a ton more advice that I found quite interesting. One author’s observations was that people prefer introspective works in the summer (makes sense, seeing as I just read Go Set a Watchman) and mysteries and thrillers in the fall (that is when JK Rowling is releasing her next detective novel). Another author liked to follow the movie release schedule, releasing books whenever there’s a movie coming out in the same genre as his book. He also felt that people prefer laughter in winter months, “light and airy reads” in spring, adventure stories in the summer, and scary stuff in autumn.

Probably the most helpful advice I got from a woman who had recently read an article on the subject (which I wish I had a link for, but so far I have been unable to find the article). According to the article she read, the best time of year to run a promotion was the two weeks after Christmas. According to her, something about a free or discounted book after the holidays gets people buying, and that allowed her to retire from her day job and pick up writing full-time (which is something I’ll have to try).

Some other tips she gave included:

  • The best days of the month to release a book is between the 7th and the 14th.
  • If you’re self-publishing, don’t release your book on a Tuesday, because most big publishing houses release on Tuesday and you’d be in direct competition with them (wish I’d known that when I released my second novel). Instead, try to release on the weekend if you want good sales. Those days seem to be good days to publish for independent authors.
  • And if you’re trying to hit some bestseller list, release on Sunday or Monday. According to industry data, that’s a good time for self-published authors.

The one thing that all these authors seemed to agree on is that there was never a bad time to release a book. It was never directly stated in any of the comments I got, but it seemed to be implied. Sure, apparently Tuesdays might not be the wisest day of the week to release a book, but other than that there aren’t any days or times of the year when authors will doom themselves publishing a book.

And you know, I can’t help but see that as a good thing. Just means there are plenty of opportunities for authors to publish their books and maybe pull out a bestseller from them. And we all want that for our books, don’t we?

Does the advice here match your own experiences with publishing?

What advice do you have on the best time to publish a book?