Building the Best Ad Stack

Looking for the best websites to use during a sale?

Book-Sale-Graphic.jpg

The Lists

Check out this list: http://www.paidauthor.com/best-ebook-promotion-sites/

  • Caveat: There's a lot of speculation about Books Butterfly. The current consensus is typically to avoid them.

And another large list of places: http://www.openworldmag.com/dominate-amazon-bestseller-54-resources-kindle-countdown-promo/

  • Caveat: Their discussion of Reddit is bad. Don't follow that. Always look at the sidebar rules in every subreddit, read them carefully, and become active before trying to promote.

Here's a great list of the places organized by genre: http://www.creativindie.com/1100-new-places-to-market-your-books/

My Personal List

The promoters in my personal list aren't ranked in any order or anything like that. Bookbub is the best, and the rest are all of decent effectiveness. Also, if you want the absolute best value for your promotions, most of the sites have their own newsletters. Make a new email address, use it to sign up for all the promotional website newsletters, and then get all the promo codes and coupons that the promo sites send to you, saving you money on each and every promotion!

The Great Myth of Genre

Genre

I've seen tons of online discussions (looking at you, reddit...) pitting genres against each other in terms of sales and profitability.

Consistently, the thing I hear most is this: romance and erotica sell.

Is that true? Can anyone write a romance or erotica story, take a picture of some fit guy's chest for a cover, post it to Amazon, and buy a new Mercedes with their first royalty check? Obviously, the answer to this should be a resounding: NO.

So why do people all over the internet seem to think certain genres are gold mines and others are dusty broom closets full of dead manuscripts?

In bookstores, genre certainly plays a huge part. If 15 of the 100 shelves are full of erotica and romance while only a single shelf in the back holds mystery, guess what? More people will buy romance and erotica. But none of that stuff pertains to the indie author. (If you want to read more about big press numbers in sales, read this awesome article.)

What does genre mean in the indie world?

As an exclusively small-press published author, I live (or die...) in the indie book world. That means attending conventions 30 weekends a year, cold selling my books to people who have never heard my name before, and keeping my travel expenses low by surviving exclusively on Taco Bell. Needless to say, I have a lot of experience in indie books and I know tons of successful and failed indie authors. So here is what I've come to know about genre in the world of indie books: 

Genre means nothing.

Of course, we all have our anecdotes of someone who published in a big genre and saw instant success, and we have anecdotes of the opposite scenario as well. When it comes to selling books as an indie author, finding your audience is everything. If you write paranormal western romance, find conventions geared toward that kind of thing. Yes, they do exist. No, I have not been to one. Yet...

For an unknown indie author without a following (I'm talking less than 10 Twitter followers, no name online whatsoever kind of obscurity) already built up by something else, marketing and quality of product determine success, not genre. Publishing an incredible book is obviously step 1, but marketing that book well and finding an audience are steps 2 - 100. You can write in the most obscure genres out there and if you find your audience, you will sell copies. Similarly, you can write in a very saturated market and have an incredible book go unnoticed. 

When you sit down and finally identify your genre label, you need to then figure out where your audience lives. If you write paranormal western romance, find western conventions. Find blogs about western topics. Go to a UFO convention. Find a reviewer with 15k Twitter minions who loves alien romance stories. Is your main character a cool gunsmith-turned-vigilante-hero type? Try a gunsmith-themed blog for an interview. You can't look for the 6 people who might exist and are in need of your specific book, the handful of people who sit at their desk and Google 'paranormal western romance' every 15 minutes in hopes of finding some incredible new author. You need to look for the thousands of people somewhat interested in your themes and topics and then convince them that your book will fill a deep longing void in their hearts.

Basically, the indie author isn't bound or encouraged by any particular genre. The discussion should not be about genre saturation or genre growth in sales at all. The discussion needs to be on marketing. If you find your audience and have a decent product, genre is irrelevant.


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Launching books the easy way.

Launching Books the Easy Way

This is part 3 of the Marketing, Marketing, Marketing series. To check out the other parts, click these links:

So you've covered everything you ever need to do before going live with your novel. The editing is superb, the cover art is flawless, the formatting is great, now you just need to launch the thing. Assuming you don't already have a huge fan base from something else (book related or not), launching a book can be a challenge.

Where should you start?

Step one is obvious: get your ducks in a neat little row. Order a proof copy and actually read the entire thing. Make sure it is perfect. Did the printer poorly cut the cover? Did you find a typo that slipped through? You need to make sure your product is as near to perfection as possible. Even if large changes need to be made which might take months, do them. Get it right the first time.

Step two: select a venue. Where should you host your book launch? There are a few different routes that might work and some of them will depend on your genre. Don't launch a gore fest horror book in a children's themed cafe... Do you want a bookstore launch or something different? Bookstores offer the upside of getting potential buyers as people simply walk through the doors. The downside is that bookstores will typically take a large cut of your profits since you are a direct competitor. My personal favorite? Launch at a bar. Assuming you are of age, find a local pub with a lot of character. Guests would be encouraged to eat and drink as they mingle and usually, that should be enough incentive for a bar to let you host with them. You keep the profits all to yourself.

  • Pro tip: make sure your location is easy to get to with enough parking. Don't make your friends and family drive more than 15 or 20 minutes to support you. A good central location is rather important, even if it means driving an hour yourself.

Step three: select a date. Don't pick a weekend. People are out of town on weekends (as you should be, going to conventions to sell your book...) and bars are packed on weekends already. Go on a Tuesday or Wednesday when the bar will likely be a little empty. Pick your date at least a month in advance. Allow yourself plenty of time to market the event and fix any potential mistakes before it is too late.

Step four: marketing. You have to spread the word. Do all the obvious stuff first. Make a Facebook event, post on Twitter, do all that online stuff. Post on the bar's Facebook page about it. Get some fliers printed. You can easily have a hundred or so posters printed for just a few bucks at any office supply place. Take your posters to the bar and all the nearby businesses. Ask the managers to hang them up and canvas the local area. Go to bookstores in the region and ask to put them up there (especially if your book is for sale online with that store anyways).

Step five: promotion. Make some bookmarks. You can get 5000+ bookmarks for around $100 and you definitely should. Leave bookmarks at the pub. Ask them to slip one in each customer check to tell people about the event. Leave them at the register of local book shops and coffee joints. Ask a bookstore manager if you can put some inside the covers of books similar to yours. Run a contest on Twitter or pretty much anywhere else on the internet. Maybe things like, "tweet this event to be entered to win a free advanced copy of book 2," or perhaps, "first 5 people at the event get a discount," or even, "every book purchase enters you in a drawing for a free gift card!" Things like that will certainly boost the popularity of your event.

Step six: don't shoot your own foot. Sure, your parents and best friends all want copies of your new work of art. Guess what? Don't give them one. Kindly tell them to attend your book launch if they want their free copy. You want to pack the venue with your supporters and giving out even one or two copies to friends before the launch is only hurting your cause. Don't let your eBook or online paperback ordering to go live before you launch either.

Step seven: get a massive amount of books ordered. Even if you don't sell half of what you take to the venue, the books don't turn to dust. You'll have them for conventions and other live events. Bring at least one copy for each person you expect to show up and bring double that number for people you don't know about. The launch is the one event where selling everything could be bad.

Step eight: get your finances in order. You need to accept cash and credit cards. That means you need a cash box, plenty of money to make change, and a card reader that attaches to your phone / tablet. It might be a good idea to get a friend to handle the actual sales part so you can focus on mingling and signing. That format looks a bit more professional too.

Step nine: weird stuff you might forget about. A costume might be a good idea. Is your novel steampunk? A steampunk outfit would be a good choice. That way, people who show up will recognize you without having to awkwardly ask someone else who the author is. Identification is huge if you plan on mingling (recommended) and not sitting behind the table. Do a reading of your book. Reading your words out loud might be the most embarrassing thing you'll do in your entire life, but it actually works. Sure, the people you know are already planning on buying a book, but other people who happen to be in the venue don't know about it. Doing a reading (or 2) lets the other patrons know exactly what you're about. It also looks and feels more professional. Make sure you stay for the entire time you listed. That should be obvious. Even if only a handful of people show up, just grab a drink and enjoy yourself.

Step ten: take pictures. Commemorate the event with photos and such (especially if you incorporate a cosplay element into your launch. Maybe a 'dress like the character' contest?) and post those photos to your blog. Tell everyone as you take their picture where it will be posted. That drives traffic to your website.

Step eleven: online stuff. I don't want to get into huge detail here, but there are a few things you can do. Send out advance copies to bloggers and reviews a month before the launch. Tell them about your launch and ask if they would please leave a review on their blog / Amazon the day of the official launch. Find other bloggers (like me!) and ask to be interviewed by them and have it posted the week of your launch. Write a guest post about your genre or something interesting and get a friend to post it to their blog the week of your launch. The more steam you can generate in the week prior and week after your launch, the better your online sales will be. Doing a blog tour is a great way to promote. Pair the tour with some paid online promotion (see other marketing posts for info on those) and you can really boost your ranking.

Step twelve: email list. Use your book launch as a way to gather emails for your list. When people buy the book, ask them to write their email on a clipboard. Use that as the seeds of your email list which will become a great tool to let everyone know about your next book launch event. 

 

I hope these tips help you plan a successful launch! If you have any other helpful ideas, feel free to post them in the comments. This is by no means an end all guide to becoming a billionaire, but it should at least get you started on the right track.

 


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So you booked your first live event. Now what?

Marketing, Marketing, Marketing... Part 2!

Actually, let's back up a step. If you don't know where to look to find a place that will host you as an author, you (obviously) need to do that first. Is your book available on Barnes and Nobel? Call them, speak with a manager, and ask to do a signing. Offer them a cut of each book you sell. Offer to sell them store copies at a big discount. You could also get a table at a convention that specializes in your genre such as fantasy, sci-fi, horror, etc. Want to try something with a cheaper table cost than comicon? Find a local art festival and grab a vendor booth.

OK, now you have a live event booked. What do you need? You can check out the first Marketing, Marketing, Marketing... post here if you want to get an idea of what my personal setup usually looks like. Bring some sort of stand to vertically display your books. Bring promo materials like bookmarks, cards, etc. If you have a banner, set it up behind you but don't block it. Put it a little off to the side. Lastly, bring tons of books! You need to have at least 6 copies of each title sitting on the table at all times and another 30+ of each in a box under your chair. Never run out. Plus, having so many copies will motivate you to sell.

Dress professionally. If you're at comicon or a similar event, feel free to cosplay. If you're at a church book fair, leave the Cannibal Corpse shirt at home. Especially if you're young, you need to look like a pro.

So you're sitting at your booth and people are walking by... but no one is stopping to look at your books. Guess what? That's your fault. At one of the comicons I attended last year, there was a guy selling a really cool children's book. The event was very family oriented, so there were tons of little kids with their parents. I sold more horror titles than that guy sold children's books. He sat behind his booth, worked on his laptop, and never interacted with potential customers. That's a fine way to lose money, get discouraged, and fail.

I can't tell you how many people have said things like, "I just don't feel comfortable promoting myself." That's like saying, "I'm a really good wide receiver on the football team, but I'm terrified of catching the ball." Suck it up, put on your salesman hat, and start moving books!

The Pitch: you need to have a solid pitch down that conveys the atmosphere and general idea driving your book. No one wants to stand at your booth and listen to the entire plot of your novel. Get something concise and poignant that will drive a sale. It might take a few tries to nail it down, but once you do, it will sell books for you. The legendary bookseller Tony Acree has a wonderful pitch that I've heard several hundred times. When a potential customer shows interest in his series, he describes it like this: "The first line of the book is, 'It was 6pm when the devil walked into my office and had a seat.' The Hand of God is about bounty hunter Victor McCain. His only brother has sold his soul to the devil and he has 24 hours to find a certain girl before the brother goes south. It has lots of action, dark humor, and ends on somewhat of a cliffhanger. The Watchers is book 2 and you can find the rest of the series on Amazon and Barnes and Nobel."

That pitch is great. In 20 seconds, Tony conveys the atmosphere of the novel (it helps that the cover says supernatural thriller on it) and gives a brief overview of the plot themes. He lets the customer know that it is a series, that more books are already released, and that all of his stuff is available online as well. 

Want another example? Here's my pitch. When people come up and are interested in fantasy, I tell them something like this: "The Goblin Wars series is non-Tolkien fantasy from the perspective of goblins. I don't have elves in trees shooting bows or dwarves in mines with hammers. My races are goblins, humans, orcs, and minotaurs. The goblins are a hive-mind controlled by a single goblin queen until one of them is born free. He leaves his mountain home and adventure ensues. My books are $12 each or 2 for $20." Most people will ask more questions after my pitch and I try my best to answer them. For whatever reason, fantasy fans like to know a lot about the lore of a world before they buy the book. Personally, I like to give the price in the pitch since I hate asking people for prices myself.

So you have your pitch, but how do you get people to listen to it? When you're standing behind your booth (never sitting) and someone glances at your stuff, ask them a simple question: "Do you like to read?" If they shake their head, let them walk on. If they say yes, ask them what they read. If they respond with your genre, hand them a copy and dive into the pitch. If they say the classic 'everything', hand them a copy and dive into your pitch. If they tell you they like to read western cross-species bunny-themed erotica with a sci-fi twist, kindly inform them that you don't write that smut but you do write (insert genre here) if they're interested.

I'll leave you with one final bit of advice. I'm sure I've mentioned it somewhere else in the blog, but I'll say it again:

If your seat at a convention is warm, you might as well leave.

People want to look you in the eyes when they talk to you. Stand up, hand them a book to check out, and deliver your pitch. Oh, and watch those profits soar.

 

Want some help with your own pitch? Post it in the comments with a link to your book and I'll give my two cents.


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Marketing, Marketing, Marketing....

This post is primarily addressed to the good people over at www.reddit.com/r/selfpublish. There have always been lots of posts asking for marketing advice and a lot of the advice is either super obvious or terrible. I'm not incredibly successful by any means, but I've made a good bit more than I've put in.

Here it goes...

Step 1: The Really Obvious Stuff

In case you didn't know, you should use social media. You should also have a professional website. If you need a guy to design your website, shoot me an email and I'll hook you up with my web guy. He will get you set up in about a day for $200. Which social media websites should you use? All of them. GoodReads is the most important.  Do some giveaways and start building reviews.

  • GoodReads Pro Tip: at the conclusion of your giveaway, message the winners personally and make sure they like your genre. Do it under the guise of confirming their address. You can weed out the bots and people who actually don't like your genre and just want free crap.

Become active on forums and different writing communities. Join a local author group and make friends. Find the people more successful than you and learn from them. There is a subreddit for every genre - use them! If you write fantasy, hang out and interact on /r/fantasy. After people get to know you, dropping a line or two about your own writing (tastefully...) will be welcomed and respected.

 

Step 2: Printing

If you're really serious about making money in the crazy world of books, you need to spend money first. I highly recommend getting a few thousand (~$100) bookmarks printed at UPrinting that describe your book, have a link to your website, and links to Amazon. If you have multiple series or genres, get multiple bookmarks. Give them out at live events and hand them out everywhere you go. Go to bookstores and ask to leave them by the register or in your genre's section. Drop a stack off at a local coffee shop. Always keep a stack in your car and a few in your wallet to hand out to people you meet who might be interested.

The banner: Having a great banner is critical for live events. A great banner can run up to $400. Honestly, an eye catching banner will not only bring people to your booth at an event, it will sell copies for you.

Here is the basic setup I use at most live events. The banner is behind me and I use 1 or 2 stands to show off my books. I have free bookmarks sitting in front and copies for people to pick up and check out. The table is also covered with the Hydra Publications logo and banner to add further legitimacy. This photo is from a local ComiCon at a small library that drew about 3,000 people. I sold out of books.

Here is the basic setup I use at most live events. The banner is behind me and I use 1 or 2 stands to show off my books. I have free bookmarks sitting in front and copies for people to pick up and check out. The table is also covered with the Hydra Publications logo and banner to add further legitimacy. This photo is from a local ComiCon at a small library that drew about 3,000 people. I sold out of books.

Step 3: Going Live

I've said it before about a thousand times on reddit, live events are the best way to market. Now that you have beautiful bookmarks and a great banner, find every event you can and book a table. If you want to go to a huge event, get other authors to split the table with you and bring down the cost. The table pictured above cost $30 and I made hundreds.

How to sell in person: I've read plenty of posts from other indie authors about how they feel gross selling in person and they can't do it. They don't have the personality for sales. Guess what? The moment you tried to make money from book sales, you became a lifelong salesman. At my first live event, I only sold 3 books. I still blame the frigid weather and outdoors setting for the most part, but I didn't know how to sell. I sat behind my booth and waited for people to come up and ask a direct question. The event drew about 1,000 people and I only sold to 3 of them. Pathetic.

Find people selling books at your own live events and watch them for 10 or 15 minutes to get the feel of how they do it. Observe them make a cold sale to a disinterested passerby. Get a good 30 second pitch down and stick to it. You'll be pulling people in left and right.

  • My actual spiel at live events: stranger walks by and A) if they glance at my banner, ask if they like fantasy or B) ask if they like to read. If they like fantasy, give them a Goblin Wars bookmark and pitch them the book. If they like to read, ask them what genre. I'm in 3 genres, so I can usually grab them from that point. Always end your pitch with a price. Don't make the customer ask for it. Offer them a deal on multiple books, especially if you have 2+ out in the same series.
  • Another great strategy: take pictures (with permission) of cos players at live events and post them to your website in a Convention Recap style blog post. After you take a picture, hand them a bookmark with your address and tell them it will be posted soon. You just sent traffic to your website and every click is a potential sale.

Step 4: What do I write / how much?

The obvious answer is obvious. Write what you love! And never stop. With only 1 book released, physical promotion and live events are tough. People don't take you seriously and you can only market to fans of 1 genre. The truth is, series sell. Standalone novels are outsold by series novels 2 to 1 or better at live events. An article I read once said that you need to spend 90% of your "book time" writing and only 10% marketing. Every time you release a new novel, bump another 10% into marketing. That's a good formula to follow.

  • Don't skimp on a cover and good editing. You'll destroy potential fans if they read your first book and find errors or the cover is crap. The upfront cost might hurt, but you're hopeless without it. If you need a cover artist, I can recommend a few, just shoot me an email. If you need an editor, I know a couple of those too.

Step 5: Online Marketing

Unless you miraculously get accepted to the shrine of holy book sales known only by whispers (aka BookBub), you need to be careful with online advertisers. A few services out there look great, but many of them are expensive scams veiled as instant success. To name a few of the well known scams: Reedsy, BookDaily, NetGalley, etc. Stay away. For a detailed video on how to build ad stacks and make money (including a list of places to use when promoting), check out this post.

  • KDP & Kindle Select - I recommend it. I know a lot of people don't, but I've found the countdown deals to be fantastic.
  • KDP free download days - I sort of recommend it. Only do free days for book 1 of a series that already has book 2 released. You want to gain long term fans. Use those days sparingly.
  • Kindle Unlimited - I recommend it. You still get a cut of the sale price and it encourages people to give it a shot. Plus, there are several websites and subreddits devoted to books on KU and they will advertise you for free. This is especially true for romance / erotica.

Do a blog tour. What's that? Find a blogger (like me) and book reviewers and send them free copies of your eBooks to check out. Ask them to interview you for their blog. Run a giveaway contest on their blog. Ask other authors to be interviewed for your own blog so you can share an audience. Offer to write guest posts on other blogs about anything the owner of the blog wants to read. The more places that have your name and a picture of your book, the better.

Step 6: Mad Profits

Be realistic. Don't set out to self-publish or publish through a small press and quit your day job. Especially in the first year, it won't even pay for itself. Your covers and editor fees will rack up and that mountain of book related debt won't start to erode until you have 2+ novels released. Try to only check your sales rankings once a week and you'll avoid most disappointment. Use your sales rank as a reward: every 10,000 words you write on your work in progress earns another peek into Amazon.com's author central. 

 

 

Feel free to comment and add your own advice. And of course, since this is a post on marketing, check out my books!