The Elevator Pitch: Telling People About Your Book in One Sentence

You may be talking to someone at a party, at work, or while waiting to lead an army of werewolves and asuras into battle to stop the demonic entity Delassi from entering our dimension and consuming it entirely (or is that just me?), and the subject you’ve written or published one or more books may come up. If that happens, there’s a good chance they may ask what your book is about. And that leaves you with the decision on how best to tell them what your story is about without giving away too much or too little.

In instances like these, I prefer to use what’s called the elevator pitch, something I picked up from my job-seeking days (which thankfully are well behind me!). The idea of the elevator pitch is to present the shortest and most succinct description possible for any possible subject. For a job-seeker like myself back in the day, that would be a short description of myself that would give the hiring official an idea of what sort of employee I would be. But for a novel, the elevator would be the briefest description of the story’s plot.

Now, I can already hear some of you saying, “But Rami, my story’s too complex or long to just summarize it in one sentence.” And I can understand that. There are plenty of stories that are difficult to summarize. I’d be hard-pressed to give an elevator pitch for the Song of Ice and Fire series (the closest I’ve ever come is someone making a joke about the series and saying it’s about, “Knights, dragons and boobs,” which is true but probably not the best elevator pitch). However, I find stories that defy the elevator pitch are the exception rather than the rule. Most can be boiled down to their essential nature and used in an elevator pitch.

For example, the Harry Potter books:

A young boy goes to wizard school and discovers his destiny.

Or To Kill a Mockingbird:

A trial with racial overtones sets a small town on edge as one lawyer attempts to give his client a fair shot at justice.

Or Carrie:

A bullied teenage girl discovers she’s telekinetic and decides to use her powers to free herself from her torment, with disastrous results.

When I tell people about my own upcoming novel Rose, this is the elevator pitch I usually give them:

A young woman starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems).

Yes, that’s the plot, and it’s actually getting published. And a lot of people have heard that summary and have asked me to let them know the moment the book is available for purchase.

The upside to using the elevator pitch method is that it takes a big story and condenses all a prospective reader needs to know into a single sentence without bogging them down into unnecessary details like the complex relationship between the Seven Kingdoms, or the blood-purity debate among wizards, or any other details that a reader would be better off learning through actually reading a story. It’s especially helpful if you’re in a place where things happen fast and people come and go quickly, such as in line at a coffee shop, saying hello to the usher you’re on first-name basis with at the movie theater, or, I don’t know, on an elevator.

Another upside to this method is that you can use the pitch with your blog, or short stories you’re submitting to magazines or anthologies, and a whole lot more.

The one downside I can think of, besides that a few stories can’t be summarized in a sentence that easily, a single sentence can’t capture the beauty or the power of a story. The sentence I gave above for Mockingbird can’t impart to the potential reader what a beautiful and emotional coming-of-age story it is, and the one for Harry Potter certainly doesn’t tell you just how awesome those books or the worlds inside them are.

But compared to boring people’s ears off with an entire synopsis or just reading the blurb to them right off the book jacket, this might be the better method, and one I’d highly recommend.

So how does one condense their story to a single sentence? That’s up to the author to decide. No one knows the story better than the author, so they ultimately figure that out. The only advice I can give is to not try to rush it. This can take a while, sometimes several days, to figure out. That, and maybe ask yourself what’s the first thing you think of when it comes to your story. Often, that image that appears in your head is the story at its simplest.

While it may seem a little paradoxical, summarizing a story into a single story and using that as your elevator pitch can make for a great marketing tool in everyday interactions. Who knows? That single sentence could get you a number of eager new readers, if you’re lucky.

Do you use elevator pitches when marketing and submitting your stories? What are some tips you use when coming up with them?

Update on the “Handbook for Mortals” Controversy

Recently I wrote a post on “Handbook for Mortals,” which covered the controversy about a first-time author and former band manager whose YA novel made it to the top of the New York Times Bestseller List, and how the Twitter YA community uncovered that the author got there by making bulk orders from bookstores. All in order to apparently get a movie deal with the author as the main character. Yeah, that happened.

Well on Monday the author of that very book, Lani Sarem, wrote an article for the Huffington Post defending herself. She pointed out that the publishing industry has changed dramatically over the past couple of years, and that she ordered the books for conventions and book signings, going through the bookstores rather than her distributor so that sales counted towards the NYT Bestseller List. She also said that plenty of people had bought books at these signings/conventions, and that she’d already locked down the rights for the movie so she could have more control over the five movies (seriously? Five?) based off the series she was writing, and to star in the film.

I’ve seen a lot of back and forth in the wake of this article. Some is sympathetic, and others not so much. And Sarem does make some points. The publishing industry has changed dramatically over the years, authors do order in bulk for events like conventions and book signings. And authors do show up in adaptations of their works from time to time. Could all the media coverage of this book and its author, including the coverage from two weeks ago, have actually been detrimental to something positive?* Did one Twitter community accomplish something that another failed to do with the Ghostbusters reboot?

Well, I did some research, and slept on it, and I thought about it. And while there are some interesting points, there’s still some stuff with this situation that doesn’t ring right. Not least that movie thing (five? Seriously? SERIOUSLY?! Let’s get to even one and see how that goes! And you as the lead? Really? I don’t know if that’s a sign of a control freak or a narcissist or both).

First off, the buying in bulk thing. Yeah, authors do buy in bulk for events. However, most of the time they buy through their distributors, as it comes with a discount, and it still counts as sales. It’s also considered more honest than what Sarem did. She literally says in her defense she bought through bookstores simply to get on the NYT Bestseller List, which would get her the movie deal. And while she’s technically right that there are no “rules” against doing something like this, there’s a subversiveness about it that doesn’t feel right. Not to mention that, as I mentioned in the previous article, behavior like this got her fired from a band she managed. Heck, tactics like this was used in an episode of Lucifer, and it felt just as subversive there as it does here. It actually reminds me of the time I played an online game and used a cheat code to get to maximize my stats just so I didn’t have to do the hard work of building them in the first place.

And that’s the major problem here: Sarem was looking for ways to immediately reach the top and get her movie deal, rather than get their through hard work and talent. Even if she wasn’t doing technically anything “wrong,” it was still dishonest and meant to be a shortcut to fame and success. That’s why people are upset, and made such a big deal about this. Sarem used a cheat code, all for a film deal, and it got exposed. That’s why she was taken off the NYT Bestseller List.

Because in the end, there is no defense for trying to skip hard work and make things easy. Especially when it comes to literature.

So while Sarem may have a good defense, there’s plenty here that just doesn’t sit right. And if you think about it long enough, you’ll realize there are ways to get a great novel on top of NYT Bestseller Lists, and this isn’t one of them.

Also, Sarem’s cover art may have been stolen from another artist. I’m not kidding you, the cover of the book apparently bears a striking resemblance to an art print called The Knife Thrower by Australian artist Gill Del Mace. And if you look at them, they’re very similar (can’t post it here because of possible copyright issues, but here’s a link to the creator’s website if you want to check it out). Where does it end?

But what do you guys think? This seems like it  might become an ongoing issue or story, one I may revisit on this site in the future, so I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. Was Sarem being dishonest or innovative? Did Twitter go insane again, or was it a cross between Spotlight-style reporting and grassroots activism? Let’s discuss in the comments below.

*As for the quality of the book, I’ve looked at reviews from both before and after the initial wave of articles about Sarem’s unique methods. Some like it, but a lot more find it a mess that seems to have been written by a junior high schooler. Of those who’ve written reviews after the controversy broke, they admit they know of the controversy, but they try to focus on the book itself, which I’ve done myself with different movies and films. If they’re definitely trying to stay unbiased, then the reviews don’t bode well for Sarem regardless of the efficacy of her tactics.

Prisma: An Inadvertent Cover-Creating App?

Prisma app logo

A friend of mine has told me that covers should look good, because people unfortunately do judge books by their covers. With that in mind, I try to create the best covers I can, using what resources I have and looking to friends when I can’t do something with a cover. And recently, I came across an app that I think I can add into my cover creating resources: Prisma.

I got this app on the suggestion of a friend, who told me that it can be used to make your own artwork out of photographs (I’ve got my own apartment these days, and I’m looking to put some more art on the walls without breaking the bank). Prisma is a recent creation dating back to June 2016, and was created by Alexey Moiseenkov. The app relies on artificial intelligence and a neural network to take photos on your phone and turn it into art. The best part is, you can choose from forty different art styles–or as they’re called in app-language, “filters”–in turning your photos into art. Some of these filters come standard when you download, while I believe others can be bought from a store.

Take this selfie of me, pre-filter:

Now put it through the Comic filter:

Not bad, right?

Now here’s a shot of my multivitamins:

Put it through the Roy filter:

It makes no sense to me, so it must be art!

Yeah, it’s a fun app, and the filters allow for some really wonderful, one of a kind pictures for your personal gallery. But I realized soon after I made some art pieces with the app that there were further uses for this app than just stuff for my wall. Perhaps uses that even Mr. Moiseenkov hadn’t thought of. What if you could use this app to give your cover a special touch?

Yeah, we work hard on our covers. We learn Photoshop, we download stuff from the internet, we take special shots in the middle of the night while it’s snowing heavily (or is that just me?). But sometimes we feel like there’s something missing, something that makes the cover perfect. Why not add a little art to it?

For example, here’s a cover provided to us by our good friend Joleene Naylor, who downloaded it from CanstockPhoto.com. The photo was uploaded by a user called–I kid you not–remains:

It’s a good cover, and gives an idea of what sort of story it is. Problem is, the impression might be a bit too general, to the point that you worry it seems too run-of-the-mill.

Now put it through the Candy filter:

Nice! Not only does it look like it was painted, but the effect kind of brings to mind a strange, Warhol-esque vibe. Maybe this story takes place in Greenwich Village in the sixties, and there’s a hippie girl who isn’t so into peace and love, or something. Slap on a title and author name and you’re good to go to publish!

Bottom line, there’s plenty of potential for creating covers with Prisma. With so many different styles to choose from, there’s sure to be a way to make your cover look special. Download it to your phone, give it a go, and see for yourself.

 

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.

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?

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?

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? 

 

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?

New Modifications on Amazon to Look Out For

It’s a good time to be independent. That’s part of the reason this site exists: to make sure authors know that it’s a good time to be independent and we’re here to help you make the most of it. And it’s about to get better: recent announcements from Amazon about modifications to ongoing programs are bound to benefit authors, especially of the independent variety.

The first announcement is a coming change to the KDP Select program and deals with how authors are paid. Currently, authors whose books are available through Kindle Unlimited and the Kindle Lending Library are paid based on how many times those books are “borrowed” through these services. Starting July 1st though, Amazon will start paying authors based on how many pages a customer reads the first time they read the book. If a page is on the screen long enough to be registered, it’ll add to how much the author is paid.

According to Amazon, authors who write longer works and feel short-changed by the current pay-by-the-rent format can stand to earn more if they can write long stories that are exciting and keep the reader involved. At the same time an author who writes a 100-page thriller novel is encouraged to maybe see if they can extend the story a little bit longer.

Of course, one shouldn’t write a book based on this sort of formula (or possibly on any formula(, but it might give some authors encouragement to try a few new things while giving other authors who already write longer books hope for a little extra income through KU and KLL.

The other announcement deals with changes to reviews and rating. You ever get that low review where someone just takes offense at something on your cover art or a typo in your author bio on Amazon or just to say “I did not like this book. It was totally stupid?” Sometimes they don’t even buy the book? Had my first of those recently, brought down my rating a little. Thankfully, with this little change these sort of not reviews will matter less in the grand scheme of things.

Currently, Amazon rates its books by averaging customer reviews. If you have a book with eight reviews, for example, and you have five four-star reviews, two five-star reviews, and one three-star review, your book’s rating will be 4.1 out of 5. Under the new system though, which they are already testing, reviews that are recent, have been written by a customer who bought the product, and are found helpful by other customers will be given more emphasis than other reviews. So if you have a five star review that’s been found helpful by twenty people and it was written last month by someone who bought the paperback, it’ll be given more weight in the rating than other reviews.

This is a huge change in the review and rating system, and has a number of positive benefits for both Amazon and people who sell their work through Amazon. It’ll not only prevent those fake reviews intentionally posted to bring down ratings, it’ll stop false reviews meant to pump up reviews (Amazon has had a heck of a time trying to stop these reviews, even suing companies that provide positive reviews to authors for a price). And if products have a few flaws around release, once the updates are done and people start reviewing the updated product, the reviews dealing with the product flaws will be less prominent and matter less in the long run.

Right now they’re still experimenting with the new system, and it’s only covering a small group of products, but once Amazon starts using it for all their products, it’ll change everything about the reviewing system! And it can only benefit. Assuming an author writes a very good book, customers looking at the reviews will get access to the most helpful reviews first and foremost.

Like I said, it’s a very good time to be an independent author. And it’s going to get even better. With more chances to get paid for writing the stories you love and not having to worry about length, and a new ratings configuration that keeps bad reviews from totally ruining your rating, authors stand to prosper more from doing what they love and do best. And I cannot wait for these programs to become available for all.

What are some modifications you’d like to see done to Amazon or other book distribution sites?

What are you looking forward to with these new changes?