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20170624_092912            Writers need to network. It’s necessary to help improve your ability to write better and sell books.

One of the places where I’ve been able to grow my writers’ network is at the festivals and other events where I sell books.

I usually two or three writers at these events. Some are other writers like me who are selling at the festivals. Others are writers who are visiting the festival.

Unpublished Writers

The first type of writer I meet is someone who has written a book but is not published. Some of them are afraid to put their books to the mercy of the public. Others just don’t want to put in the time to do the marketing that books need. Others still think that it’s very expensive to publish a book.

Published Writers

The second type of writer is one who has a couple books published but they aren’t selling. If they were published by a mainstream publisher, they often feel that it’s the publisher’s job to market and sell the book. If they are indie published, they aren’t putting in the marketing time.

The result is that the books aren’t selling. These authors are cutting their own throats because publishers aren’t going to want to publish their next books if they can’t show a strong sales history on their previous books.

These authors believe that a successful author just has to be lucky. They ignore the fact that they need to work just as hard at the marketing as they did at the writing. When talking to these authors, I always tell them that they need to spend just as much time marketing as they do writing.

I’ve learned about new festivals. I’ve gotten the names of businesses and organization to contact about speaking or carrying my books. I’ve gotten tips to improve my sales. For instance, I learned about selling additional product lines from a fellow author.

Entrepreneurial Writers

The third type of authors are writers who are doing better than me. I love these authors because I get to pick their brains what they’re doing, what they like, and what kind of results they are seeing.

Yes, I do festivals to sell books, but I’m always looking for new ideas and new techniques to try and see what works and what doesn’t. I keep what works until it stops working for me or until I find something that works better with which to replace it.

This persistent move forward has allowed me to grow my business. It might not be happening as fast as I would like, but I am moving in the right direction.

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A part of the discussion among members of the Gettysburg Writers Brigade this past Wednesday involved where to find festivals where we can sell our books.

Here are two websites that I use that make searching for festivals easy.

Festivalnet.com allows you to search for the details of festivals across the country for free. If you want more details, you can either join the website, or you can do a web search for the name of the festivals you find.

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I’ve been doing the latter, but it is becoming time-consuming so I will be joining with a basic level membership.

Given that the Gettysburg Writers Brigade is in Pennsylvania, I found another site called PA-vendors.com that gives, even more detail about Pennsylvania festivals than Festivalnet.com.

You can also find similar sites for festivals in New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware.

So if you would like to find a long list of potential places where you can market your books, check out one of these websites.’

s-l500About a month ago, I wrote about ways that I’ve been trying to increase my sales from festivals and other events where I sell books. I do well at festivals, but in talking with other vendors, I have realized that books aren’t the biggest sellers, although they probably have a better profit margin than many other items.

The reason that I want to maximize sales at festivals is because my costs for a festival are fixed. The booth space cost one price and my gas costs another. They don’t change whether I have more or less to sell.

One of the things that I talked about doing was to offer additional items for sale that are related to my books.

I have been selling 1 oz. copper coins with various designs on them for five festivals now. They have sold well. In fact, at a small event last Saturday, I sold four times more coins than books. That was the first time the coins outsold my books and it certainly made my attendance at that event worthwhile.

I also added hand-crafted coal figures for the past three festivals that I’ve done. The prices on these vary widely, but they have been selling. They tie in nicely with my book, Saving Shallmar: Christmas Spirit in a Coal Town, and I do some of my events in coal country.

The results? The extra items have added an average of 27 percent to each event’s gross sales. It’s definitely worth adding these items. I’m not sure how much of my annual income comes from festival sales, but I’m guessing that if that percentage holds, it will add a few thousand dollars to my income.

The other thing that I’ve noticed is that the shiny coins and varying size figures on display attract more people to the table. It’s easy to overlook books, but they are curious about the figures and what they are made of. They want to see what is on the coins.

Once they stop at the table, they tend to look at everything so I get a chance to pitch my books.

While I can say that the extra lines have increased the traffic to my booths, I can’t say for sure whether it has increased book sales. My sales have increased, but they were already increasing nicely before I introduced my additional lines.

So adding extra lines is one experiment that has proven successful.

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My two-table set up for weekend festivals.

Having a strong backlist of books is great for a writer. When I sell books at festivals, I am able to have a large display of different covers, genres, and sizes of books to attract readers. In fact, last year my show display grew from one table to two tables. A backlist also means that I have multiple ways to attract readers. Each title gives me a new opportunity to catch a reader’s eye.

 

That’s all great.

However, I’ve run into a drawback with having a library of 18 books, and it has been driving me crazy this past month.

Grammarly Review

I have started running all of my books through Grammarly to catch any mistakes my editors, readers, and I missed when the book was originally published. Surprisingly, given how many eyes were on the manuscripts, I have found too many. Running 18 books and a half a dozen e-books through the program takes times. I started doing this in December, and it could very well continue until next December.

Review Request

Since I  was reviewing each book, I also decided to make sure that all of the electronic editions had a review request at the back. I haven’t worried up until not about getting readers to post reviews of my books online. That delay has come back to bite me recently as I have tried to expand some of my marketing efforts. Some places that I have wanted to use to market my books want to see more reviews of the books. So I’ve had to detour some of my marketing in order to increase my Amazon.com reviews.

Book Descriptions

Last month, I learned some new techniques for writing book descriptions that I have also started applying to my book pages as I update them. This is not a single update. I need to make changes to a book on four different websites (Amazon, KDP, Smashwords, and Bowkers) to make sure the descriptions are all the same.

Hardback Editions

I recently discovered a way to accomplish two things that I have wanted to do for years. When I switched from doing offset printing to print-on-demand through Createspace, I stopped being able to get my books into physical chain bookstores. The three reason I heard for this were that the stores couldn’t get their typical discount when purchasing the books, they didn’t want to support Amazon.com, and stores can’t return print-on-demand books.

Up until now, I haven’t worried too much about it. I  have been making most of my sales through other channels. However, as my marketing efforts expand, I have started running into this roadblock more often.

I have discovered a way to use Ingram Spark and Createspace together. I can still get the books that I sell through Createspace, and customers purchasing books on Amazon will still see the books always in stock. Meanwhile, I can use Ingram Spark to get my books into the chain stores and offer a hardback edition.

I have wanted to offer hardbacks since I wrote No North, No South… It is an oversized book, which is typically printed as a hardback.  Since that time, I’ve written another tabletop book and a couple novels that I would have like to offer as hardbacks.

All of these are useful things for me to do. They each will have benefits to help me continue moving my career forwards. I recommend authors do all of these things. It’s just that having to do all of these things for all of my books is very, very time-consuming.

It’s happening, albeit slowly, but I’m excited to see the results.

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Challenge_Future_New_Year_ResolutionsLast week I looked at how I did with my 2015 writing resolutions. Now it’s time to set some goals for 2016. I tend to set my goals at the high end of scale so that I really have to work for it. That way, if I fail, I will probably be better off than if I had simply set a goal that I knew I could achieve. Also, if I fail, I usually leave that goal in place until I do hit it. I also like measurable goals so that I can gauge my progress.

Publish four books this year.

Having just one book ready to come out (It’s the first in a young adult series), this could really be a stretch. However, I have been working on a biography that I really want to get out this year and I have two other books that are possibilities. So I’ll go for the gold and see if I can get them all out. The biography will be one that messes up this goal if any of them do.

Attend 78 festivals, book signing, talks or other events.

Last year my goal was 50 events and I managed 56. This year, I decided on 78. It’s an unusual number, but it works out to be 1.5 events a week. I had 29 events set up coming into the new year and was contacted about 5 more yesterday, which gives me more than I had for 2014 (32 events). There are still festivals and book signings that I expect to do. Plus, one of the things I like about festivals besides meeting readers is that I tend to have people bring me ideas for articles and ask me to speak at their organizations. Another reason that I think I’ll be able to meet this goal is that with the introduction of the YA book, I will start marketing myself to schools, which should add to the number of events that I’ll do.

Increase the percentage of my income that comes from books to 50 percent.

Last year, although I sold more books than I ever had, the percentage of my income from book sales decreased to 38 percent while my income from articles jumped to 60. While I enjoy writing articles, my ultimate goal not have to write articles because I’m earning enough from my books sales to support my family. I would still write articles, but only the ones that I really want to. This means I’ll have to do a lot better at my book marketing, which I started trying to concentrate on during the last quarter of 2015.

Increase book sales by 33 percent.

This is a big goal and the one I’m least likely to hit. If I do miss it, I am sure I’ll still have sold more books than I did in 2015, which means it will be another personal best year. I want to give myself a goal that will make me work my butt off (but that’s a goal on my personal list as I work to lose weight).

Get all of my eligible physical books converted into e-books.

E-books are nowhere near a major part of my income and it is an area that I could really grow in order to help my previous goal. Most of my books are available as e-books, but there are still a few that I need to convert. I also have one e-book that I would like to turn into a physical book. Eventually, I would like to be able to release e-books and physical books at the same time.

Based on how things went in 2015, if I can come even halfway to achieving these goals, I will have a very  successful 2016.

Do free books work as a marketing tool? This is a hotly debated issue among the indie authors that I know. Some are quite vehement that since they put in all that time writing the book, they want to get paid for that work.

I understand that. I want to get paid, too. I think the difference between those who use free e-books and those who don’t is their view of their career. Authors who use free books as part of their marketing plan believe that giving away a book now will help them further down the road in building readership and therefore, more sales.

I did some revamping of my own marketing plan this fall and decided to use free books as part of it. The first way I implemented this strategy was to offer three free e-books to anyone who signs up for my mailing list. (If you’re interested, visit my website at jamesrada.com. You’ll find a signup at the bottom of the home page.)

The results were good, but I still need to tweak things a bit to optimize it.

chart free vs paid series starter               Smashwords recently released an updated survey that supports the use of free books. With more and more authors using free book promotions, the effectiveness has dropped off some, but it still works. The 2015 survey found that free books are downloaded 41 times more than a priced book. That is up a bit from 2014, but down significantly from 2012 and 2013.

However, what it shows is that free books are a great way to get your books read. What happens from that point is up to the author. If the book is well written, the reader will want more so authors need to make sure that it is easy for the reader to find more books by the author and buy them.

“A free book allows a reader to try you risk free, and if you’re offering them a great full length book, that’s a lot of hours the reader has spent with your words in which you’re earning and deserving their continued readership.  Free works!,” Smashwords founder Mark Coker wrote in the survey.

Another item involving free books from the survey is that series that offer the first book free earn more money than those that don’t. Smashwords looked at 200 series with a first book free and 200 series that didn’t offer a free book. The survey looked at average earnings and the median earnings of the series. Both ways showed that series using free books earned 66 percent more.

I think this shows that free books should at least be given a try. I certainly will be. If you want to take a look at other findings in the survey, you can find out more here: http://blog.smashwords.com/2015/12/SmashwordsEbookSurvey2015.html

edgarallanpoeI am editing a book right now and thinking about how I would classify it. When I first wrote the book years ago, I considered it light horror, but now I’m not so sure.

I don’t want to give too much away, but the gist of the story is this: Because of how Lazarus of the Bible was resurrected, whenever he is about to die, his body steals the life force from the nearest person. During the early 19th century, Lazarus meets up with another resurrected being who was possessed by a demon at the time of his resurrection. The demon sets out to kill Lazarus and Edgar Allan Poe gets caught in the middle.

The bulk of the story is set during Poe’s lifetime, although there are modern-day scenes and scenes from Biblical times forward.

As I’m editing this, though, I realize just how much historical information is in the book, particularly about Edgar Allan Poe and his life. I did a lot of research and worked to weave my story around actual events in Poe’s life.

So I’m wondering if this could be considered historical fiction. It certainly isn’t what I consider historical fiction. It has a lot of fantastical elements in it. Something similar might be Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. My story is not as heavy on the fantastical, though.

What are your thoughts? Would historical fiction readers be turned off by this story because it is too fantastic? Would horror readers be turned off because it has too much history? I’m trying to figure out how to market the book, but first, I need to be able to explain it to a potential reader.

12079184_10207596187324611_4890560574893852992_nI attended Colorfest in Thurmont, Md., this past weekend. It was my first time there as a vendor. The weather was great and the crowds large. It’s billed as the largest craft show in Maryland, attracting an estimated 60,000 people over the weekend.

I had heard stories from other vendors about how good a show it is and so I had overpacked for the show. At least I thought I did.

I was selling books even before the show officially opened. I like to talk to the people who stop my booth, but from around 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. both days, it was so busy that I barely had time to sign the books and run the charges. At times, I had lines of people waiting to get my books.

That really made my writer’s ego feel great, and it was fun. However, one of the problems with being a writer at a festival that runs all day is that you need to be at your booth for your readers. They buy books wanting to get the author’s signature. That means I can’t look around at other booths and I can’t leave to get lunch. I also have to make sure my booth is close to the bathrooms because when nature calls, I have to run to the bathroom, be quick about it, and hurry back.

Anyway, by the end of the weekend, I had sold out of a third of my titles and another third had just a copy of two left. That made it easy to pack up Sunday evening. I had gotten to talk to hundreds of readers and potential readers, which was great. It’s something that I always enjoy.

If you’re a writer, don’t overlook craft festivals as a marketing venue. I find that for me, I sell more books there than when I attend a book festival.

The weekend did exhaust me, but it also left me energized to get back to my writing.

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BooksAlive-LinkedInI attended the Books Alive! Washington Writers Conference the other week as a panelist, but I also listened to different panels and picked up some good information. The panel that I enjoyed the most was the agents panel. Three agents spoke about what they want to see in a submission or hear in a pitch that can be made in about five minutes. Here are some of the things that I gleaned.

  • Start you pitch with a hook. Give them one or two sentences that will entice the agent to want to know more about the project (this works equally well for articles and books).
  • Move into a short description of the project. Again, keep it short. Imagine you are writing the jacket copy for your book.
  • A short bio about yourself. Why are you the person who should be writing this?
  • What’s your platform? Do you use Twitter and Facebook? Do you have a web site? Maybe you are a columnist or magazine editor who has a following? What are the ways that your name is already getting out to the public.
  • Where does your book fit into the market and how large is the market? What shelf in a bookstore would someone find your book?
  • What’s your next project? You can’t rest on your laurels. Build on the success of your previous projects.
  • What are some comparable titles to your book? Be realistic here. Don’t just go for the big name books. List books that have similar content and scope. If you try to pass yourself off as the next J. K. Rowling or James Patterson, it will come across as hype.

So that’s what I took away from that panel. Someone else might have gotten something different from it. I’ve heard a lot of these things before so it is a pretty good bet that it’s what most agents want to see, but you should always check the agent’s web site just to be sure that you are sending what that person wants.

I read Allen Taylor’s E-book Publishing: Create Your Own Brand of Digital Books as an Advance Reading Copy. I have published a number of e-books and thought I pretty much had the process down pat, but I still found information and tips in here that I will use on my next e-book project.

If you haven’t published an e-book yet, then this book is a great primer to get your first book up and for sale. It has plenty of step by step information to walk you through the publishing procedures for various platforms. Hopefully, Taylor will keep the book updated as changes are made with the different publishing platforms so that the book’s information stays current.

That was a concern I had about some of the data about e-publishing I read early in the book. The most recent seemed to be 2013. If the 2013 trends continued, I wouldn’t be so concerned, but I saw stories last year showing that e-publishing might be leveling off. So the rosy picture, Taylor paints, may not be so rosy. Don’t get me wrong. It’s still a great market to get into and this book does a great job of doing it.

Taylor has a relaxed writing style so you don’t feel like you are reading an instruction manual as he walks you through the process. You just do what he says and before you know it, you have a book electronically published. I’ve read some manuals where the steps get so technical that I felt overwhelmed, but Taylor makes you feel like he’s a friend talking you through the process.

What novice and veteran e-publisher alike will find useful are the chapters on marketing, pricing, and running a digital press. Publishing your e-book is really just the first step in a very long process of getting it into the hands of readers. Taylor covers a lot of strategies to accomplish this. Try them out and see what works for you.

He shows you how to publish your e-book in a variety of formats and also with a variety of publishers. My biggest concern is that the book has separate chapters on publishing your book in different electronic formats and also with different e-book distributors. Reading the book you get the feeling that you have to format your books a half a dozen different ways and then upload it a number of different web sites.

One thing I have discovered is that pretty much all I need to do is publish my book with Kindle and then Smashwords. I used to only do Smashwords because it formats your books to a variety of platforms including the ones that Taylor lists as separate chapters. Although Smashwords publishes a Kindle format (.mobi), I’ve found that nearly all Kindle users buy their e-books from Amazon.

So I format my book two ways and upload it to two sites, but then it is distributed to probably more than a dozen sites.

All in all, it’s a very handy reference book to have. I highlighted a number of different web sites and passages to study in more detail.

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