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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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I had the opportunity to run the same promotion for two different books this month and have been evaluating the results.

CanawlersThe Books: Canawlers and The Man Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe. Canawlers is a historical novel that was first published in 2001. The Man Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe is a horror story published last year under my J. R. Rada pen name.

The promotion: I decided to use my five free days on KDP select on a Monday through Friday promotion.

The Marketing: I blogged and tweeted about both books through my accounts. I advertised the books on Facebook groups that I belong to. I used the Author Marketing Club promotional submission tool to have my promotions listed on 31 free book sites. I can’t say how well the book sites worked, but I did see a sales surge with both books after I posted a listing in my Facebook groups.

The Results: Canawlers had nearly twice as many downloads as The Man Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe. Does the number of downloads indicate that there’s a larger audience for historical fiction over horror? I think it may. This seems to dovetail with some things on paid promotional sites that charge more for historical fiction than horror novels. Most of the downloads for both books came during the first two days of the promotions, although Canawlers had a surge of downloads during the last 10 hours it was on sale.

Since there is no direct return on investment because the books were free, I had to estimate sales that the promotions generated for my other books both with actual sales and pages read. My indirect sales were three times higher Canawlers than The Man Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe. The fact that it was as profitable as it was surprised me a bit because a ran a paid promotion for a 99 cent version of Canawlers last year that turned out to be a loss.

The profits weren’t tremendous, but they were profits. It also gives me a baseline going forward.

UntitledMy Conclusions: It pays to promote books in a series. They have some coattails. Canawlers has three sequels and an omnibus edition. All of them saw sales during and directly after the promotion. The Man Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe was a stand-alone novel.

Also, it helps to have a backlist. I have 14 ebooks available as James Rada, Jr., and only five ebooks available as J. R. Rada.

Don’t ignore the Kindle pages read during a promotion. They jumped significantly for both promotions. It was a big enough jump to make me consider adding more books exclusively to Kindle. I still considering this. I probably should just find a way to market my non-Kindle ebooks better.

I will definitely run future promotions, although I will break my five free days into two or maybe even three promotions. I will continue to use the Facebook groups and perhaps try a paid site for the free promotion. I will do it with Canawlers, though, since it generated a greater return. I realized that I should be asking for retweets of the promotional tweets I did. I forgot.

I want to try a promotion for a non-fiction history book and a middle-grades series I’ve started. Then I will compare those results against the results I got for Canawlers and The Man Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe.

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Clay Soldiers: One Marine’s Story of War, Art & Atomic Energy comes out next month. It is a biography about WWII veteran Charles Caldwell. It’s the first time that I’ve written a biography and it was a much-different experience than I expected. Here are some of the things that I learned.

Scan1z (2)zIt’s always better to have someone to talk to. Since I write history articles and books, a lot of times, I can’t speak to someone who actually lived through what I’m writing about like I could when I was a newspaper reporter. Having someone around that I can interview is invaluable. It allows me to personalize the story. I was able to include lots of anecdotal stories to major events like the Battle of Guadalcanal and the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg that add more depth to the story and present a view that you won’t read elsewhere.

Research, research, research. Even though I was able to interview Chuck Caldwell for hours at a time over the course of a year and a half, I would still need to go home and research what we had talked about. His memory is still sharp and he had plenty of letters and diaries to supplement, but there were still gaps that I needed to fill in at times or additional information that I found on a subject that I could ask him about. I usually began each of our interview sessions with a list of questions that had come up in my research. After we went through those, we would start talking about other subjects.

Find something different. Each person has an individual story and you can’t forget that. You need to capture that in a biography. What is it about the story that that first attracted you to it? In Chuck’s case, it was that he had an autograph book filled with the autographs of Civil War veterans he had met at the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg and pictures of himself with those veterans. He is also a WWII vet and the 75th anniversary of America’s involvement in that war begins this year. It struck me that young kids would be approaching him this year like he approached Civil War vets in 1938. Things had come full circle. C03aa

Never forget it’s about a person. It’s a biography, which means that it needs to tell the story of a person. You can’t get swept up in the events that the person was part of and forget to tell your subject’s story. You have to put yourself in that person’s shoes and try to envision things through their eyes. Sometimes that means you write a much narrower view of major events. However, I have found that although events may be interesting, readers need to connect with people. Writing a biography means you have your main character already. Just tell his or her story.

The first draft is not final. Even after I had the first draft written, Chuck would read sections that would trigger other memories. He would go digging for a picture or letter and tell me a new story that I would then need to weave into the draft. I didn’t mind this. It was why I had given him the draft. Even as a writer, sometimes, I just need to see something on paper to realize that it needs more or less or the written differently. Even while my beta readers were reading what I thought was my publishable copy, I was also reading it and rewording things or researching something to add more detail to it.

Clay SoldiersSometimes I never thought it all would come together. I wrote chapters out of order, which was highly unusual for me. I would look at them and think, “How am I going to tie this together in a way that makes sense?” Then I realized, it already tied together in a way that made sense. It was the story of a man’s life. All I needed to do was tell that story as best I could.

That’s what I’ve done. I probably even pushed myself harder to do a good job with this because Chuck got more excited about having his life written down for his family as time went on. I didn’t want to disappoint him. I hope that I haven’t.

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