Marketing

Using Twitter to build your brand

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As anyone with a product to sell or brand to build will know, getting your name known ‘out there’ is the hardest job of all. Whether you’re an author, painter, carpenter, website builder, yoga teacher, or armadillo trainer, getting known, for yourself as well as your product/service is a thankless and laborious task. Unless you have pots of money to give to a marketing firm who will do the work while you sit back and sip your latte, you will have to spend some regular time using the internet.

The operative word here is use. I don’t mean surf, I mean use, make use of. There is a difference. Unfortunately that difference means some time on your ass, typing, but it will be worth it.  For the purposes of this blog, I’m going to concentrate on Twitter as it’s the most intensively used social media for branding, as far as I can tell from daily observation anyway.

I’m going to take it as given that you have a Twitter account that you use regularly and some followers. You will also need a pro Hootsuite account. The pro version doesn’t cost much, less than $10 per month, but you can’t follow this method without it. If you don’t have both of these, go get them and come back here.

One thing worth noting here. I’m not saying that what follows is the best way to approach branding on Twitter, or the only way. It’s my way and I’ve found it less time consuming than other ideas I’ve been told about, and far less expensive.

The secret is CONTENT.

Let’s break things down to simple terms. I want you to do three things. Know my name, know my product, and want to try my product. In order to do this, a lot of people on twitter simply flood their feed with demands to “buy my shit, it’s better than anyone else’s shit.” Of course we all know their shit is probably not better than anyone else’s, and the terse way they bombard us with demands that we buy their shit, puts us off doing so. This type of ‘call to action’ marketing is seldom successful and pisses everyone off no end.

No, what I have to do is let you know I exist first, in a non confrontational way without asking you to do anything for me. I want you to know I’m a nice person, witty, clever, helpful, and have a great sense of humour. It’s the kind of thing you do on a first date. In order to give you the chance to get to know me as a person, I fill my Twitter feed with all sorts of stuff that has nothing whatsoever to do with my product. These tweets are known as ‘content.’

You will see this content on your feed, if you are one of my followers, and will hopefully find it interesting, thought provoking, and sometimes funny. You will think, “she’s cool, she’s into the same stuff as me.” Or you might think, “her funny memes are awesome, I think I’ll retweet them.” Then again you might think, “that article she linked to was just what I needed to sort out that problem I was struggling with.” Do you see what’s happening here? You’re beginning to think I’m the dogs bollocks. Because you like me now, you will be more willing to retweet my tweets, and when you finally see one that pertains to my product, a book link, you are less likely to scroll on past.

That is how content works, in a nutshell. So how do we do it? It’s easy really but there is an outlay of work at the beginning, and regular upkeep each week. There are four basic steps.

Compiling your list of content from around the internet.

Making your blocks of tweets.

Producing a csv file in Excel.

Upload the finished csv file to Hootsuite.

The first step is by far and away the most work. It involves trawling the internet for articles, videos, meme’s, blogs, lists, anything you want to include in your content.  It is important to keep your content relevant to your product. If you are a carpenter, you don’t want to post recipes or cute kitties, unless of course they have a funny ‘woodworking’ angle. As a science fiction author, my content is outer space, science fiction, NASA, writing, and everything relevant to my subject. You want to attract people who are interested in the broad subject within which your product lies, so this will help you target your content.

Step two is making up blocks of tweets. I do blocks of six, but you can have any number you like. I would say that four or five is probably as low as you should go. My blocks consist of an article, a list, a video, a quote, a funny meme, and a book link, in that order. These blocks of six are repeated throughout my entire content list. Notice that only one in every six tweets are about my product, my books. This means that my followers can get to know me without the hard sell and when a book tweet comes along, they don’t mind because they know I give them lots of other interesting stuff too.

Next you need to build your csv file in Excel. You will be scheduling your content via Hootsuite, which demands a csv file so there is no choice here. Fortunately it’s easy, just filling in two columns of a spreadsheet in Excel.

Open a blank Excel sheet. You will be using the first two columns only. In column A, you will be putting the date and time of each tweet. In column B goes the tweet itself. The tweet needs to include a link to the article, video, meme, or whatever, and for this you will need to use a link shortener. There are loads to choose from on the internet, but I find it quicker and easier to use Hootsuite’s own.

hootsuite link shortener

If you’ve not used Hootsuite before, above is a screenshot of the tweet input box. Notice I’ve put a URL in the long narrow bit at the bottom? Click ‘Shorten’ and you end up with a nice short link that won’t take up all of your 140 characters.

hootsuite link shortened

You can also add hashtags to your tweets if you wish. Many people on twitter search by using hashtags, so they are useful if you want your tweets to get noticed by people who don’t (yet) follow you. Make them relevant to the tweet itself or you will quickly receive angry tweets from several thousand irate twitterers. Believe me, I know. There is a very useful tool you can use when compiling tweets with hashtags. If you go here you can type in a word and get a readout that tells you how many people use that hashtag.

Excel looks like this:

excel sheet example

I’ve put a block of six example tweets to illustrate how the list is built. Continue building your blocks of tweets, making sure only one tweet per block is about your product/service.

Next you need to decide how often you want your tweets to go out. I do one every thirty minutes throughout three quarters of the day. My tweeting day starts at 10:30am and goes right through to 5am the following morning. I’m in England, so I make sure I catch the folks who stay up late in the USA before breaking it off. We’re 5 or 6 hours ahead here, depending on whether it’s summer saving time or not, so my tweets go out until midnight in the USA and start again at 5am their time.

Build your time preferences into your list. You don’t have to take a break each day, I do because Hootsuite will only schedule a maximum 350 tweets at a time so I can do a week at a time. It also means I can use those tweets in busier parts of the day when more people will see them.

Back to Excel to do column A with your dates and times. This is the part that will require the regular maintenance I spoke of earlier. This is another reason I schedule a week at a time. It cuts down the time spent editing the dates in my spreadsheet.

You have a choice of two date input types. You can either have mm/dd/yy or dd/mm/yy. Whichever type you choose, input your dates and times with date first, followed by time. See my examples in the screenshot above. I’m English so I use dd/mm/yy and mine go like this:

01/01/2016 02:00

Once you have your list, with enough tweets going out at your chosen time interval, for the period of time you want, save the spreadsheet as a csv file. You will notice that there are two choices of csv file, macintosh and MS Dos. I use MS Dos and have never had a problem. I assume that the other one is for Mac users (?). You will get a box pop up asking you if you’re sure you want to save as a csv and saying some features might not work etc etc blah blah blah, click yes. When you go to close Excel, the same box will pop up, click ‘don’t save’ this second time.

Now to upload your file to Hootsuite for scheduling. On the far left side of your hootsuite dashboard, click on the icon that looks like a paper aeroplane. This is Publisher and the place for scheduling tweets ahead of time. Down the page a bit, click on ‘Bulk Message Upload.’ A box will pop up.

hootsuite upload box

Choose your file, click on the date input type and ‘submit.’ Then pray. If there are any problems, they will be listed at the bottom of the box. Basically, it won’t allow more than 350 tweets, duplicate tweets, or tweets that are not scheduled for at least ten minutes ahead. If you get any, go back and check your date and time input, it’s easy to make mistakes in Excel especially when updating week after week.

Make sure every tweet is different, it won’t allow duplicates. This will probably only apply to those tweets pertaining to your product. I have twelve books out, and making forty to fifty different tweets for each one is a huge pain the rectum, believe me. If you want, you can change a full stop for a comma, change a comma for a full stop etc, or change a word or two to make it different, I did this when compiling my lists. Once you’ve corrected any mistakes, your tweets will be scheduled and will go to your twitter as per your instructions.

It is then time to go back into your Excel spreadsheet and edit your dates so that you can reschedule the list. I have three lists of 264 tweets each, which means that apart from my book tweets, all the others are unique and different. My followers don’t see the same tweet for three weeks. Personally, I feel that less than a week between repeats is pushing people’s attention span and patience.

To edit your Excel list, click on the entries in column A and edit them in the edit box. If you look at the example of my Excel sheet, you will notice I’ve highlighted one entry in column A, which has been copied to the edit window right in the middle of the photo.  It’s next to the funny shaped F. Edit your entries in there, click return and it will automatically go to the next one in the column.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Remember to resist the temptation to fill your list with hundreds of “Buy my shit NOW” demands. Keep those to one per block of five or six. Your followers will thank you for it and you will quickly see retweets in your notifications. You will find people add you to their lists, comment on some of your content tweets, laugh at the meme’s. Your followers will get to know you without feeling you’re pressuring them to buy. If they like your content, they might decide to try your product one day.

Building your brand isn’t about getting rich quick. It’s about building your name and brand on firm foundations that will last and grow.

 

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Goodreads giveaway – my experience

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Further to this post about my experience using facebook paid ads, I decided to throw caution to the wind and run a giveaway on Goodreads for my last novel, Fetish. This is yet another attempt at raising a little awareness ‘out there’ towards myself as an author and my books.

Goodreads giveaways are free to run, but there are one or two points to remember. First, it’s only for paperbacks. Yep, those of you who publish only in ebook formats can leave the room  now, or why not hop on over here and find something spectacular. For those who, like me, publish in both ebook and paperback, stick around a while. So long as you are prepared to give away an actual, physical book, you can have a Goodreads giveaway. This means purchasing at least one copy of your own book, and then paying to mail it/them to the winner(s). Other than that, there are no additional costs.

Second, it is absolutely forbidden to contact the entrants or winners for any purpose whatsoever. To do so gets you labelled as a spammer. This means you can’t add them to a mailing list, nor even say hello, buy my other other books while you’re waiting to win this one, etc. Many authors are a little trigger happy, so this might be painful for some.

You can choose to give away as many books as you want, or just a single copy, whatever blows your skirt up. I gave away three signed copies. You have control over which countries your giveaway is open to, which I guess is to allow you to control postage costs. Most people go for USA, UK, and Canada, although just about every other country in the world in on the list. Click on as many or as few as you want.

My giveaway ran for a calendar month and in that time, I had 864 entrants. This is amazing when compared to my last attempt at running a facebook giveaway event, which gathered an immense crowd of just two entrants. Some of the other giveaways in the list have thousands of entrants. I suppose it comes down to how well known you are and the genre of the book you are giving away that dictates how many entrants you will attract. That is 864 people who now know I exist and that I write science fiction novels. There is now a chance, albeit slim, that a few might venture to take a look at my books. They might  not, they probably won’t, but there is  now that chance where there was none before.

If the three winners actually read the book and like it, they might buy some of my others, or tell their friends how they enjoyed it, review it even. It is all maybe and what if’s but it’s something, a chance I never had before. It’s a step along the marketing road, a road I seldom travel.

Now for the figures. I had to purchase three copies of my paperback, which cost me £15.24. Postage costs for the 3 books to the winners, all USA residents, was £22.35

This means the entire cost of this promo experiment was £37.59. To get that back I need to sell five paperbacks or twenty ebooks.

The point of this experiment was not entirely to make sales though. What I’m trying to do is build my brand permanently rather than make a quick sales spike that lasts a day then flatlines again. I’m trying to get myself into the public’s awareness, get my books onto their radar, as a permanent fixture and not just a flash in the pan.

With so many marketing and promo opportunities out there that cost a whole wedge of cash, this seems to be one of the cheaper ways to get my books into readers’ hands, even if it is just a couple of raffle winners.

How one reader buys her books

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I have a good friend with whom spend a couple of hours every Friday morning. She knows I write science fiction novels but has never read any of them. She is a reader, although she admits to being a very slow reader. Last Friday, she asked me how my writing was going and I told her I had begun editing my next release. There followed a little back and forth, with her asking questions about the process and me answering. She seemed genuinely interested. She’s an intelligent woman with a very well paid job and lives in a large house in the countryside. She’s successful and has the kind of lifestyle I dream about and envy. I’m telling you this so you can get a true picture of her. She’s educated, respected in her field, worldly wise, and wealthy. She’s not some ill educated untermensch.

At some point during the conversation, she asked me, “how are they selling?” I was truthful and told her, “they’re not.” We then discussed the problem of trying to get our brand ‘out there,’ in an over saturated market and I asked her a very important question. I said, “as a reader, how do you approach buying a book when you want to read?”

She told me that she tends to stick to authors she knows she likes, or she’ll listen to recommendations from friends, then she reads reviews. She admitted that she is so overwhelmed with choice and said that she finds searching on sites like Amazon, difficult and time consuming, so she tends not to bother. She said she is so busy that she doesn’t have the time to spend searching online for books she doesn’t know whether she will enjoy. It is much easier and quicker for her to stick to what she knows, or walk into a book shop and browse the shelves.

This was very interesting information and confirmed what I’ve always said. The good stuff is buried under a mountain of trash so huge that readers are put off trying to wade through it to find the good stuff to read. Unless you have a lot of money to spend on advertising experts who can get your name ‘out there,’ you’re wasting your time trying to make money from writing novels.

We talked about the impossibility of getting reviews and I told her about sites like Bookbub, where you can pay a large amount of money to have your book advertised, so long as it has a large number of reviews at 4 star or higher. I asked her, “as a reader who is just looking for a book to read, have you ever heard of Bookbub or similar online sites?”

No, she’s never heard of it, nor any other similar site and I suspect the vast majority of ordinary people haven’t either. This part of the conversation confirmed something else I’ve always believed, that much of what is considered by authors as ‘the right thing to do,’ is done to impress other authors and not readers. Attracting other authors and attracting readers are two totally different worlds and some people get too caught up in the wrong one.

The salient points are that she is a busy working woman with a family, a successful business to run, and a large home to keep. She has neither the time nor the inclination to wade through a mountain of trash to try to find something she might enjoy reading. She is  not aware of advertising tricks, and uses past experience and reviews to influence what she reads.

Another important thing to consider here is that modern life is different to how it was a few decades ago. We don’t read as much now as we did when I was a child. I used to clean houses for a living and of all the homes I went into, no more than 2 out of 10 had any books at all, let alone the shelves of books I remember everyone having in their homes when I was young. People might take a book on holiday to occupy them on the flight or while sitting by the pool, but those two weeks per year are probably the only time they will read anything other than a newspaper, a magazine article about a celebrity scandal, or a facebook meme.

So where does this leave us, as authors?

Truthfully? I think the time of the traditional length novel is dying fast. I think the way forward is 25-35 thousand word novellas, short story collections, 10 thousand word novelettes perhaps. Modern humans don’t have the capacity to stick with an 80 thousand word novel any more. They need instant gratification that they can grab, consume, and discard in a couple of hours. Everything about our modern life is instant, freeze dried, reconstituted, pre packaged, and disposable. From the clothes that fill our closets, the food in our superfast microwave ovens, to the ultra short bland porridge on their digital e-readers.

Those of us who write full length novels with twisting plots, group dynamics, and twists at the end are catering for a dying market. The new breed of weirdo geeky nerds who live in the dark and read science fiction epics of 80 thousand words and more are our customers now. They are few, they are the new ethnic minority, and they are a dying breed.

The bubble has to burst some time soon

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Have you ever blown up a balloon and reached that point where you know it’s gonna go bang any second? I think we’re approaching that point  in the literary world. When I say ‘I think,’ I actually mean I hope.

The whole, review, sock puppets, paid reviews, fake reviews, deliberate bad reviews cycle is fast reaching the point where the literary world will just implode. Then there are the overpriced promo sites, like that really well known one that costs hundreds of dollars for one day’s promo, whom I won’t name because they haven’t paid me hundreds of dollars for ad space here on my blog. They require your work to have reviews, sometimes a minimum number of them at a certain star rating or above, and can still refuse to accept your work at all. So you save for months or don’t bother to pay your credit card bill, then use the money to apply for an add at that book promo site or others like it. What are you going to feel like if they refuse you because you haven’t the right number of reviews, or perhaps they just hate your cover or notice a spelling error in your blurb? You’ve just flushed several hundred dollars down the shitter. If I lost so much money like that, I think I would either commit murder or suicide.

You can buy reviews on various selling websites. Fiverr is a well known one where you can purchase book reviews. It’s dishonest to get reviews this way, but I’m sure the vast majority of reviews you can see on Amazon, have been purchased. I’m not yet that desperate, but I can’t guarantee I won’t get there.

I hope the bubble bursts soon. We need the floor to fall out from under the whole self publishing world and the entire thing to be reformatted. Rebuild it from the ground up, with concrete rules that are heavily enforced, even some legislation in law would help keep things in line.

This can’t go on, or I can’t. One or the other.

U2, ‘That’ album, and the problem every indie author faces

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Anyone with an iTunes account will have received a free album courtesy of Bono and U2 in the recent past. This act of generosity has been dogged by outrage ever since and has resulted in Bono issuing a public apology.

He said it was, “a drop of megalomania, a touch of generosity, a dash of self-promotion and deep fear that these songs that we poured our life into over the last few years mightn’t be heard. There’s a lot of noise out there. I guess we got a little noisy ourselves to get through it.”

Bono’s comment touches upon a very pertinent point for us self published authors – how to get our voice heard above the din.

The sheer weight of stuff out there from which the customer can choose is so immense that the chances of your book being chosen are extremely thin unless you are already famous.  As Bono’s comment illustrates, even that doesn’t guarantee what you have to sell will be chosen above anything else that is out there, nor even that it will be noticed at all.

If someone as world class as Bono and U2 are worried about it, then the rest of us should start wringing our hands immediately. This ultra famous supergroup couldn’t even give their album away, so what chance do the rest of us nobodies have?

What is the answer?  I haven’t the faintest idea, and neither has anyone else.  Oh people will of course spew forth with their own opinion based upon nothing more than the delusion of their own superior knowledge, but no one has a definitive answer because there isn’t one to be had. The only thing we do know is why it’s happening, and that is the advent of self publishing. It is so easy to publish your own book now that everyone and their neighbour is doing it, most of whom really shouldn’t be bothering. The problem is that they are bothering, and all are convinced that their work is the best the literary world has ever seen. Before self publishing, 99% would be turned down by the few traditional publishing houses and would spend their lives dreaming of being an author. Back then, the number of books out there was much lower and the reader with money to spend was not so spoiled for choice.

So what can we do?  I don’t know. You can of course throw money at the problem, but most of us don’t have access to enough funds to finance a big international marketing campaign. Advertising space is a premium product now and the cost of those precious column inches, website pixels, or mailing list placings, is prohibitively high. If you want a day on someone’s mailing list,  not only do you have to pay a very high fee, but most demand your book has a certain number of reviews at a certain star rating. Failing that, you could pay for a billboard or a TV ad but that is mega dollars. No, that kind of ad campaign is way beyond the means of most hard working self published authors who don’t make enough sales to be able to live off their writing.

Me? Well I’m taking the zen approach.  I’m sitting back and waiting for the bubble to burst. It will do of course sometime and when it does, the books I’m writing in the meantime will give me an impressive back list. I’ve backed off from trying to market my books and am concentrating on writing. One day this monster we’ve created will die, and when it does, I’ll be there.

You will have to find your own way through that suits you, but as Bono found out, sometimes you can’t even give it away.

 

Parting ways with Smashwords

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Today marks the ending of a relationship that has been good. It’s like breaking up with a boyfriend you’ve become comfortable with, and although you feel sad, you suddenly realise that now you can take more notice of all those other fish that people say are in the sea. They are there too.

A few days ago, I published my ninth novel, A.W.O.L, a sci fi romance. All my previous eight novels have been published in both paperback and e-book formats, and this new one is no different. For the last eight books, I have used multiple publishing platforms, to increase my visibility around as many sites as possible, and this new books is no different. For the last eight books I have used Smashwords as one of e-book publishing platforms, but this new book is very different.

Smashwords have always been one of my favourite publishing sites, because of their distribution, which has always been pretty fantastic. The trouble with Amazon, is that although most people buy from there, Amazon only make ebooks for the Kindle. Not everyone uses a Kindle. Some folks use iPads, iPhones, Palm readers, Nooks and loads of other e-reader devices. For these other e-reader devices, you need sites that produce e-books in the appropriate formats for these e-reader devices to use. There are loads of sites that sell e-books for all these other e-reader devices. iTunes, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Sony, Diesel and many others, and Smashwords distributes your book to many of these. Up until recently, they were the only one who had such a wide distribution.

Many authors hate Smashwords, and are quite happy to vocalise their hatred. The upload process, what Smashwords calls ‘the meatgrinder’ is unnecessarily difficult, and any deviation from an extremely strict formatting process, results in refusal of your file. They do produce a free book to guide you through their formatting process, and if followed very strictly, upload should go without a problem. There is zero margin for error or creative expression in your formatting though, which is another annoying thing.

Smashwords also insist you list them as your publisher on your copyright page, which is one of the main things everyone hates about them. Not content with taking a cut of your royalties, they also require to be your publisher.

Up until now, I have never had any problems uploading to Smashwords. It has always gone through first time and I’ve been perplexed as to why so many other authors all say they have so many problems. I now fully understand all those other authors, and join them in their hatred.

My Word subscription ran out, and I could not afford the £80 needed to renew it, so I used Kingsoft Writer to format A.W.O.L and uploaded to Lulu, Createspace and Amazon KDP without a problem. I always do two formats for ebook, one for KDP and one for Smashwords, as they require totally different formatting, and this time was the same. When I tried to upload the file to Smashwords however, it refused it, saying that the file was an application/KSWPS file with a .doc extension. Not only do I not have the first clue what a KSWPS file is, I’ve no idea how to change it. So I paid for renewal of Word, which meant I could not pay the rent that week, and opened the file in Word, and saved it again from there, renaming it completely. Smashwords still refused to accept it. I then copied the document into a fresh word document, and totally reformatted from scratch, entirely in Word, saved from Word and renamed again. Smashwords still refused to accept it.

smashwords capture

I got in touch with their support, and heard from a guy called Kevin, who asked me to send him my content and cover shot files, which I did. He then said they uploaded fine when he tried, but they won’t when I try. He finally admitted that he hasn’t a clue why this is happening.

Having ranted about this on my facebook page, someone gave me a link to a page called Draft2Digital, which is an ebook publishing platform who distribute to iTunes, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo. With nothing to lose, I took a look and uploaded the book, which was accepted straight away and is now for sale at those three outlets. It seems that the only way Smashwords distribution is better, is because they also distribute to Sony ebooks and Diesel.  Pfffffft……….!

Draft2Digital will do your title page, copyright page, table of contents and end papers for you (about the author, other works by etc) if you haven’t done them yourself, and there is no style guide you have to follow, and no demands for them to be listed as your publisher. Just upload your formatted file and away you go. They are also trying to secure distribution with several other well known ebook sites, so they will soon have a distribution network to beat all others.

I have sold a few books at Smashwords, but not so many that I’m not prepared to leave when there’s a better service available. My book has been available through Draft2Digital for just a couple of days, and already there’s been a sale. I’m happy with them so far and have no intention of fighting with Smashwords anymore.

The eight books that are already up at Smashwords can stay there, but I will not be using them again in the future. This has put me off them for good. I will use Draft2Digital for my future books and will recommend them to everyone. If Smashwords wants to get back into favour with authors, they need to shake themselves up. Their meatgrinder is too hard to navigate, the demand for listing as publisher is just wrong, and the famous lack of support is just not acceptable. Sites like Draft2Digital show how easy it is to provide a service without making the process difficult, and more publishing sites like them will pop up as time goes on.

Bye bye Smashwords, you suck cock.  I won’t miss you, and I’m happy with all the other services that are available now.

UPDATE – April 3rd

Today I got another email from Kevin, saying that the only thing he can suggest is to try uploading via Firefox, even though I hate it.  If it still won’t work, then he said “it obviously wasn’t meant to be.” So I very reluctantly downloaded Firefox (I detest it with a passion) and tried the upload. The file uploaded without a problem, just to make me look like a twit. Apart from not liking my title being all capitals, and making me change it to Awol (with initial capital only), it uploaded smoothly and is now in the queue for pro catalogue review.

I will wait until it is safely accepted in the pro catalogue before deciding whether to delete it from Draft2Digital, as it might cause a problem with the distribution. D2D distributes to B&N, Kobo and iTunes, and so does Smashwords, so the fact that the book is already at those locations with D2D might cause a hiccup that Smashwords doesn’t like.

The advertising cycle of doom

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Making a living is hard these days, no matter what business you’re in.  Books are a luxury item and as an author, making sales has become difficult, and many are resorting to all sorts of techniques in order to gain some visibility.  Those with money to splash around or working spouses to sting for money, can pay for online advertising.  The best known (which I won’t name as I don’t owe them any free advertising) is a site where you pay for them to add your name to their mailing list.  For those willing to spend a lot of money, this can create a spike in sales for a day or two.

This particular site charges a lot of money for the honour of being included in its list, and it requires that your book already has a lot of glowing reviews, or you get turned down flat.  Seems funny to demand that so many reviews be already in place, as I would think that if you had that many reviews already, you’d be less likely to need help getting visibility.  Ho hum, I guess I’m missing the point.

I can’t afford this site’s services, and don’t have the required truck-load of reviews anyway, so it’s off my radar.  I have to rely on ways to advertise for free, which tend not to have the same punch as paid for services.  It’s a vicious circle, if I could make more sales, I’d have more money to spend on better advertising, but in order to make more sales, I need better  advertising.

I’ve tried everything I can think of.  I’ve set my books as free at Smashwords, but as people never buy at Smashwords, no one downloaded them.  I can’t have them free at Amazon, because I’m in the UK, so they can’t be less than 99 cents there, where everyone buys their books.  American authors can list their books free there, and because so many are doing so, people get them and ignore mine.

People want everything given to them free these days.  Once, when I had advertised one of my books that I had just published, one gal posted “Let me know when you’re giving it away free, and I’ll download it.”  But when I did put them all as free, no fucker downloaded.  Make your damn minds up!

I find people are always encouraging, but won’t actually say they hate my books.  I’ve had people tell me they can’t afford to buy books, then they post in groups about how much they’re enjoying this or that book, and when I look for it on Amazon, it’s not free.  I’ve had people say “oh I don’t like sci fi,” then they post a status about some book or author they like, and it’s hard core sci fi.  Then there’s the “I have so many books to read, I can’t add any more yet,” and then their next post is about another book they’ve bought.

I don’t know what the answer is.  Well actually I know exactly what the answer is.  It’s money, and lots of it.  Get a truck load of money and pay a marketing firm a fortune to promote for you, then sit back with your coffee and wait for the tidal wave of adulation to hit.  Until I have the means to go down that route, I’m stuck with books I can’t even give away for free, to people who won’t admit they hate me/my work/everything I stand for/the colour of my hair/my choice in footwear/whatever else.

People don’t hate sci fi, people love sci fi.  All of the most successful movies are sci fi and many of the most successful books are sci fi/fantasy.  There are huge fandoms dedicated to Star Trek, Star Wars, Game of Thrones, Hunger Games, Harry Potter etc, all sci fi/fantasy.

No one likes to be told that their work is shit, it’s a blow to the ego.  In a way though, I’d prefer it if people were honest.  At least if I knew why they hate it, I’d have a chance of changing something.  I admit, I haven’t the first clue how to beat this or proceed.

Well done to those who have the money and friends to create a huge spike in sales for a day or a week.  Remember though, that this kind of quick sudden spike in sales isn’t the kind of presence or visibility that lasts for years.  Making 20k downloads in one day due to paying hundreds of dollars for a slot in an advertising site’s email list, will bring you a bonus that month, but five years later, no one will remember, or give a shit, who you are or what you did.  People might still know who I am in five years, even if it’s of the “oh she’s that woman who writes shit sci fi,” variety.

I’m glad I decided a little while ago, to slow down my attempts at marketing/promotion.  The constant work and ensuing disappointment creates emotions I don’t like feeling all the time.  Without the stress of wondering whether this book will be the one that becomes popular at last, I can just write what comes and be creative in the way that feels most natural, instead of changing things to try (and fail) to make them saleable. My local library lets me give them paperbacks, so I can continue to do that.  I also have the knowledge that well known and well respected places like The British Library, the Bodleian Library, Oxford University Library and Cambridge University Library, all have copies of my books.   Not because I asked them to take them, but because they asked me for them.  How many of the “look at me aren’t I successful” party on facebook can say that?

Bringing my internet presence into the 21st century

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I’ve been bullied and cajoled into doing something I should have done ages ago, but didn’t.  It’s a long  haul, but a necessary one and I will be glad when it’s finished.  Glad, and hopeful that it might pay dividends.

As a self published author, the internet is our shop front.  We are our own brand and unless you are fortunate enough to be as rich as Croesus, you must do the work of marketing yourself and your product on your own.  It’s a slog, but if you do it right, you will have a wider online presence that will be less work to maintain than it is to build.

I have always been honest about my lack of ability to market myself.  I suck at it and probably always will, but even I can do a few easy things that give me a better presence online, and create a greater opportunity for readers to stumble across me and my work as they surf.  These can be broken down into a few basics.

Spread your net wide, update regularly, and bait that hook well.

There are many places on the internet where you can have a permanent presence, for free, and showcase your work.  They may not lead directly to sales, but if you’re not there, the people that are there can’t see you or your work, can they?  Take advantage of these sites, make your profile and put your books up there so anyone surfing over there can stumble across you.  Places like Author’s Den for instance are free to join, you can have your own bio page and all of your books showing, and all for nothing.  People might say that such places aren’t worth the effort, but if just one person see’s your profile there and decides to take a chance on one of your books, it’s worth it.  And what if that one person happens to be a major Hollywood director?  Ask around, google for ‘free online promotion sites’ and see what comes up.  Take the time, it could bring you that chance you’ve dreamed of.

Once you’ve spread yourself around the internet, it’s important to keep the information updated regularly.  Bookmark all of the places where you have a presence, and visit them regularly to make sure all the information is up to date.  If you decide to update your bio for instance, or your book blurb, go around your sites and update it everywhere, it only takes a few minutes to copy and paste.

Of course, all this should be done after you’ve made sure your bio, blurbs, covers etc are the best they can be.  If you find blurbs troublesome, ask a friend to help, go to the pages of similar books on Amazon and read their blurbs to inspire your own.  Try to make them inviting, even a little mysterious.  They should make a reader want to find out more, not tell them everything right away.  Re do your personal bio, or get a friend to help.  I find my own bio difficult, but you can send a list of questions to some trusted friends and ask them to take a minute to answer them.  Ask them how they would sum you up in less than six words, what do they feel your strengths are, what is funny about you, what do they feel is unique about you?  Their answers will help you understand how others see you, and you should be able to update your bio from that without it sounding too cheesy.

I’m in the middle of all this stuff at the moment, and although it’s work each day, it won’t go on forever.  Once I finish putting all of my books onto these sites, it will be there forever.  It’s just because I have eight books to do that’s making it take a while.  Places like Author’s Den and Kindleboards have quite a process to go through to get your book up and looking proper, so I’m doing them one a day to spread the load.  Even if it doesn’t lead to sales immediately, I will have a bigger internet presence, and as a brand with a product to sell, all free exposure is good exposure.

Another thing I’m making the effort to change, is my approach with twitter.  I’ve been doing content tweeting for a while now, and I’m getting a lot of retweets and favouritings from it, although mostly the non promo posts.  What I didn’t realise until a friend pointed it out, was that my tweeting was too general, and maybe I should change it more towards my genre.  Why the hell did that not occur to me?  Duh!  So, I’m in the process of finding another couple of hundred interesting sci fi friendly content tweets, so I can update my tweeting and hopefully attract sci fi loving folks to my door.  By the way, if you happen to know of any sci fi type articles, videos and other interesting stuff, leave the link in the comments and if it fits what I want, I’ll add them to my content tweet list.

Blogging is something I’m working on, and I’ve made a vow to blog 3 times a week (at least).  Increasing traffic here to the website is a big goal, and one of my main ones behind selling millions of books and having movies made of my books.  Again, keep your website updated properly, with appropriate links to everywhere else you and your work can be found.  This means of course that I will have to spend more time sitting on my already substantial rear end at the computer.

Maybe I need to schedule in some exercise?

New blurbs, New categories and more updates

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I’ve decided to take a few steps toward trying to build my brand.  I’m always the first to admit that I suck cock at promoting myself, and my efforts so far have proved a waste of time.  With lots of encouragement, and a kick in the ass from time to time from my facebook friend Tammie Clarke Gibbs, I’ve taken a couple of steps towards getting a bit more visibility for my brand.

The first thing I did was update my blurbs.  Although they weren’t bad, they benefitted from a bit of sharpening here and there, and I like the results, which you can see on my book pages here this site (in the nav bar up top).

The second thing I did was to add another category at Amazon.  Up till now, I’ve just placed my work in Science Fiction/Space Opera, which is what the book are, but I added Science Fiction/Action and Adventure.  Hopefully this will give them more scope to be found by browsers and may result in a sale or two.

Next, I re-did the keywords on Amazon.  Keywords is getting towards territory I know practically zip about, but after taking advice, I changed them, and I hope they help increase the number of times my work pops up in searches.  Fingers crossed.

I’m also trying to make more use of Pinterest, as I’ve heard that this place is a great venue for getting your brand noticed.  I’ve renamed some of my boards, and added a couple of new ones that give my pinterest a more science fiction angle.  I hope this will attract more sci fi type folks who may then decide to take a chance on my books.  You never know, it costs nothing to try huh?

I’ve finished the first full read through and edit of my next book, which is a stand alone science fiction romance.  This is the book for which I’ve invented an alien language, and because of this, the first edit took longer than it usually does.  I also took this opportunity to add words to bring each chapter up to my preferred 5k size.  This allowed me to expand in some places that needed it, to go into the characters’ thoughts and emotions in a deeper way, which was a challenge at times but such a worthwhile learning curve.  I hope to publish this in March 2014.

The last update I have, is that I’ve decided to put together another anthology.  This one will be more paranormal based than straight  horror, and I have the first two stories already.  As for size, I think twenty is a good number, it will give my anthologies a consistency if they all contain twenty stories.

On a more personal note, I’m celebrating having successfully persuaded my mother to sell up and leave Cornwall and come and live near me.  She’s 82 this coming July, and very obese, diabetic, and has damaged hips and knees.  Her nearest shop is a mile away, and she can’t walk anywhere near that far, and while it’s not a problem as she still drives, it won’t be long before she can’t drive anymore.  When that happens, she’ll be stuffed like the proverbial Christmas turkey.  If she lives near me, I can lend her a helping hand and keep her independent whenever she needs me.  I’m so relieved my months of nagging has finally borne fruit, and quite excited to see her get a nice place around here.

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As a self published author, one has to constantly run the gauntlet of snobbish opinion as to traditional vs self publishing.  This is a tiresome task and one that never goes away no matter what we do.  No matter how carefully we proof read and edit, no matter how much money we spend on cover art, no matter how many beta readers we send our manuscripts to and no matter how many re-writes we do, our work will always be regarded as shit because it’s not been traditionally published.

This subject came up again on facebook just now, when some knob-head made the following comment,

“Self-published authors are exactly that, self-published.  This is almost like arguing what the difference is between art and garbage.”

We all know there is a glut of badly edited trash out there from self published authors who should never have thought about putting their shit out there, let alone actually doing it, and we all know that the good stuff is buried under this mountain of trash, making it very difficult for our work to be found by readers.  We also know that these trash writers give us good writers a bad name and are responsible for this stigma that plagues us.

The sticking point for me, and the one thing I cannot get past without getting angry, is that my work is judged by those who have never read it.  No one has the ability to know whether my work is shit or solid gold without reading it first, and my opinion is that until they do, they should shut up and keep their asinine opinions to themselves.  When I commented to this effect, on the same thread as the comment above, I was then told, “I’m not risking money and time on something I don’t trust. You have to earn that chance, you aren’t entitled to it. You do this via marketing yourself. (Of note, angry rants do not help your case.)” To anyone who believes that since I self publish my own work, I do not have the right to express my exasperation, I say this,

“Fuck you.”

My ability to express my feelings has no effect whatsoever, either detrimental or otherwise, to my written work and if you think it does, then you’re probably not the kind of person I would wish for as a reader.  You had probably better stay inside and carry on with your knitting and siamese cats, I’ve got gritty novels to write for readers with an educated and open mind.

In my humble opinion, it is people such as those I mentioned above, that are killing writing and not authors self publishing their own work.  Whilst badly edited work does annoy readers, opinions such as those outlined above do much damage to talented authors trying to get their work out there to those minds waiting to receive it and enjoy it.  It is these talentless and blinkered troglodytes who are hindering the evolution of writing/publishing, not authors missing the odd comma or misspelling there/their/they’re.

As those of us with a few brain cells know, there is no benefit to being traditionally published these days.  They may (may) give you a small advance, but they keep 80% of your royalties, they do no marketing for you and you get no say about the cover art.  A traditional publishing house will demand you present them with a fully outlined marketing plan before they consider offering you a contract and you will be expected to do all the leg work in getting your work out there.  Self published authors keep up to 70% of their own royalties and have total control over cover art, and still do their own marketing/promotion etc.  There are many editors out there advertising their services if you don’t have the knowledge or confidence to do it yourself, so self publication need never be the poor relation of the writing family.

Times without number I find spelling errors and other simple mistakes in traditionally published works by well known authors, but never have I seen comments about how bad this is, nor how this should not be tolerated etc.  No, the opinions are always about how self published authors are the street urchins amongst the traditionally published earls and duchesses.  Until this changes, the writing/publishing world will never evolve as we know it is currently trying to do.