Marketing. No matter how much sweat and polish you put on your product, if you don’t market it correctly, your chances of making decent sales are slim, at best. This was the topic of discussion at a break-out session I attended during the Love Is Murder conference, held in Chicago this past weekend. For a solid hour, experts in the field fed us a wealth of information on how to properly market and promote our books. Never before has this information held such relevance for writers everywhere. With the advent of the indie ebook, we authors must now become our own publicist, our own marketing firm.
First, a word about “Love Is Murder.” The truth is I almost didn’t attend the conference. The annual event is held for writers of mystery and romance novels. While Martyr’s Inferno would fit that mold, most of my work is science fiction and fantasy, so one might expect that a lot of what they cover would not be applicable for me. On the contrary, this conference holds countless tips for writers of all genres. I’d like to take this time to thank Luisa Buehler for extending me the invitation. She asked me to give a one-hour presentation on procedures for death scenes. As a crime scene investigator for the last eight years, I certainly have some experience in that field. So I put together a PowerPoint, complete with pictures and video, and headed to Chicago.
The trip turned out to be a gold mine of contacts and information. I met Rebecca Crowley, a publicist whom I will be contacting for further information regarding putting out the word about my books. After buying a copy of Brotherhood Of The Rose by David Morrell, author of the Rambo novels, I sat down for dinner. There, at my table, sat David Morrell. As you can imagine by looking at my last name, the Rambo series gave me a nickname during my stint in the army. After my conversation with him, he pointed out agent Bob Diforio. Bob is the agent who represented my Star Trek: Deep Space 9 novel, The First Gambit, to Pocket Books. Best-selling author Julie Hyzy (The White House Chef mystery series) agreed to give me a blurb for my next novel, 14 Days ‘Til Dawn. The contacts went on and on.
Back to marketing. Rebecca Crowley, Libby Hellmann, and moderator Allan Ansorge gave an informative session, listing a number of ways to promote ebooks. One thing to remember is that there are a number of sites out there that will promise to promote your book to the widest possible audience. The problem is we authors have no way of knowing how many hits a given site is actually getting. Picking which site to use becomes a blind crap shoot. What to do? Visit Alexa.com. This page ranks virtually every site on the Internet in regard to the amount of traffic it receives. Whichever site is ranked #1 would be the web’s most visited page. According to Ms. Crowley, anything with a rank around 1,000,000 or lower is getting a pretty steady stream of traffic.
So I explored this site. I used it to evaluate a site where I had already arranged to have my book advertised for 24 hours. Their rating: 13,000,000. I guess that wasn’t such a good investment, but I was already committed. I’ve been tracking my daily traffic on my site, and I did not notice any change during or shortly after the time my ad ran. And according to Alexa.com, my page was sitting at 19,000,000. I needed to try something else.
This brought up another idea. Contests. Free giveaways. Anything you do to draw attention to yourself will bring you new readers, and eventually, new sales. I decided to give away a brand new Kindle Fire, which I will load with all five of my books. For rules and a list of the bonuses associated with the Kindle Fire, click here. I announced the contest on my website, through emails, blogs, and various social media outlets (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.). After 24 hours, the daily number of hits on my website jumped 400%. And for the record, my ranking on Alexa.com surpassed that of the site I paid to promote me. Much more effective!
As of this writing, I have given out 42 free ebooks in the first 96 hours of the contest. I’d say I’m off to a good start. The idea here is that in order to enter, readers have to write a review for my books on Amazon.com. When a high number of reviews and “likes” start popping up, Amazon will actively promote my books for me. More face time with readers equals more sales.
Social media. This is all the rage among writers. Facebook, Twitter, and all the rest are used to promote new books, contests, and all things marketing. The only problem is: social media are not an effective use of our time. We spend hours writing messages and announcements, reading other people’s messages, and we accomplish very little. The only people we reach are our friends, who likely have already made up their minds as to whether or not they will buy our books. Our time would actually be better spent writing.
So if not social media, what does work? Cross promotion, for one thing. Get with as many other authors as you can and promote their work, while they promote yours. That way, you reach their readers, and they reach yours. For example, Rick and I each promote the other’s work in our own websites. I link to his page, and he links to mine. We share this blog. Everyone who follows my page is exposed to Rick’s novels, which can spell more sales for him, and vice versa. When you take that cooperation and put it on a larger scale, say, ten authors, or twenty, your chances of making big sales numbers will go way up. With this in mind, Rick has offered to include a copy of his novel, More Than Magick, for the winner of my giveaway. Graeme Reynolds has offered a copy of his novel, High Moor, and Robert Vardeman has contributed a copy of his novel, To Demons Bound. For each of us, the result will be exposure. And not just to the participant who wins the Kindle Fire, because everyone who even reads about the contest will hear all of our names. And what did it cost? Nothing. Now that’s my kind of advertising.
There are other ways to get your name out there. Guest blog whenever possible. A cousin of the cross-promotion idea, this will give you access to the readers of all these different blogs. Google ads and Facebook ads will have varying degrees of success, depending upon the search tags you include. In fact, ads are probably the most effective use of social media because it gives you access to everyone, not just those people who you are connected to. Try the Kindle boards on Amazon.com. While most of them are for writers of Kindle books, there are potential readers out there waiting to hear from you. Besides, many of those authors are already successful. They might be willing to help promote you, or tell you where they’ve had their best luck spending their advertising money.
Two weeks ago, I spoke about the Kindle Select program, where you make an ebook exclusive to Amazon.com for 90 days, and Amazon Prime members can “borrow” it free of charge. According to Ms. Crowley, this is an excellent way to get your name out there. Anecdotal evidence points to a number of authors who experienced a sale bump after offering their books for free as part of the program. For this reason, I have decided that 14 Days ‘Til Dawn will start out in the Select program.
Google’s site is another source of advertising outlets. If you do a search for “Kindle promotions” (and put it in quotes—it will limit the number of useless results the search will return), you’ll find more sites than you can possibly use. Googling reviewers should return a list of people who might provide you with a review, some for free and others for a fee. Try Ereader News Today, Pixel Of Ink, and Super Ereads. Two very helpful sites: Good Reads and Shelfari.com. Shelfari is actually associated with Amazon.com, so this one should be especially helpful.
Finally, keep writing. Both Ms. Crowley and Ms. Hellmann agreed that when indie publishing ebooks, there is no need for you to wait between novels. Since ebooks have an infinite shelf life, you don’t need to space out the release dates to one or two per year. Keep the books coming! Last month, I released Archon’s Gate, the sequel to my fantasy novel, The Piaras Legacy. As soon as I finish the edits and have a cover ready, I’ll release 14 Days ‘Til Dawn. And after that’s finished, my next book is only a few months behind.
Keep trying. Use different advertising venues, track their results, and stick with what works. Yes, there is an element of luck involved in getting that breakthrough novel. But remember, to borrow from Yogi Berra (and changing his saying to fit the writing world), success in publishing is 50% writing skill, 50% marketing, and 50% luck. Good luck!