marketing

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.

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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.

 

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?

How to be a self published author online – in 5 slightly over simplified lessons

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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.

Nano 2013 update, Promotion decision, and other stuff

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How’s everyone getting on with nano?  I’ve passed the 50k and feel justly proud of myself.  The third volume in The Sinclair V-Logs is taking shape nicely and I estimate that I’m three quarters the way through.  Doing nano is great for self discipline, and it’s wonderful to see how creative you can be, even when you’re forcing yourself.  This book will, I hope, be published in early Summer 2014.

Promotion, sorry for swearing, is a dirty word for indie authors.  It’s worse than fuck, whore, balls and cunt combined and I wince every time I read it, hear it or have to write it.  I’m not a natural saleswoman and don’t pretend to be.  I find selling myself, my brand and my books, very hard indeed.  I have tried though but being financially destitute has prevented me from taking advantage of most internet promotion options.

For a while  now, I’ve welcomed other authors to this blog for tours, spotlights and releases, but until recently, I’d never done one myself.  A few weeks ago, I decided to try my first blog tour to promote my last release, Bygora Vandos and advertised for hosts all over my social media.  I even did a blog here asking for hosts or help.

Here are the results.

I wanted to do the tour for fourteen days, with a different blog on each day, as has become the norm for such tours.  I had two weeks notice before the start date and up until the first day, just five (5) people offered to host me.  Of those five, only two offered me the link to the piece voluntarily; all of the others didn’t bother and I had to go searching for the post.  Another person of the five didn’t bother to do the post at all, and only one further person updated me with blog stats (number of visits etc) and promised to promote the post on other social media.  One of the people who did the post, didn’t bother to put up the post until late afternoon, leaving me with just a couple of hours to find it and then post the link on my own social media.  All but one, didn’t bother to promote the post on their other social media.  None of the people I have ever hosted were among the five mentioned above who offered to host me.

The blog I posted here asking for help got no response at all.  Thanks for nothing..!

To put it mildly, I was extremely disappointed in the lack of interest and help by other authors, and this experience has led me to make two decisions.

I shall never host another author on my blog, ever again.

I shall no longer bother trying to promote my own work.

I shall concentrate on writing books.  I shall publish them as I usually do on all the usual platforms, and I shall do a blog here announcing it, facebook and twitter.  Beyond that, I shall do no promotion at all.  There is no point in trying to get my voice heard above all the bored housewives with money who churn out trash erotica and romance by the bucket load, when other authors actively try to block my voice by boycotting me.  I shall put my energies into writing, and since I write books worth reading, a rarity in this compost heap that is the self published world, my total focus will be put to good use.

In short, what I want to say to other authors is, Fuck You..!

The third bit of news is that my horror story anthology will hopefully be released on Dec 6th.  I’m waiting for cover art at this very moment, everything else is done and finished.  I’m looking forward to this, it’s been a long time in the making and it has been done with the help of my facebook friends, many of whom star in the stories.  I dedicate this book to them, my murderers, psychos, weirdos, crazies and victims.

Why I feel like I’m split in two

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I’ve recently released my seventh novel, Bygora Vandos ~ Sinclair V-Log LB734/A which you can investigate here, and as is the norm on such occasions, I’ve been trying to promote it.  I’ve done all the things a destitute author does at such times; constant updates on my facebook author page, regular tweeting, blogging here etc and, as usual, the ripples I’ve managed to create have been underwhelmingly, laughingly small.

This time however, I decided to try something I’ve never done before and see if it makes a difference.  Over the past few months, I’ve welcomed authors here on my blog to spotlight their new releases, but I’ve never done a blog tour myself.  So I thought I’d have a go this time, after all, it doesn’t cost me any money, right?

I decided to try a modest run with this, so I opted for a fourteen day tour, starting on October 29th.  I’ve been advertising for hosts several times a day on facebook and twitter and I blogged about it here, even asking people to reblog my post here if they couldn’t be bothered to actually host me properly.

So far, I’ve had five people offer to host me.  Yes, just five (5).  Out of the thousands of authors I am connected to via facebook, twitter, google+, linkedIn and everywhere else on the internet, only five people could be bothered to offer to host me?  Seriously?  Are indie authors so up their own asses that they think they can afford to be so arrogant and selfish?

Yes, they are.

The more I connect with indie authors, the less proud I am to be one.  In fact, the others make me ashamed to be one of them.  When I think of all the flack we have to put up with from trad published authors, the stigma of self publishing, attacks from those who think their opinions matter, I am saddened to find out that my greatest enemy comes from within the indie community,  not without.

Not content with producing badly written trash and openly plagiarised content/titles/characters, they then feel justified in using any and every tactic they can think of, to bring down the competition and prevent other indie authors reaching an audience desperate for something readable at last.  The lack of quality of their work stands for itself.  Today I saw one author on facebook proudly displaying the new cover for their latest release (which they laughingly call a ‘book’ but which is really only 20k words long.  More of a pamphlet my dear!)  I don’t think I’ve seen a book cover so amateurish.  It’s almost embarrassing to look at it and I pray that person never asks me what I think of it, because I hate to lie, I really do.

I’m at the stage now where I don’t lack confidence in the quality of my writing, but I’ve also come to the conclusion that I am ashamed to be an indie author, simply because it means I’m lumped in with ‘them.’  I now wish I was trad published, and I’ve even considered forming my own publishing company, just to produce my own books.  This will enable me to take a step away from ‘them’ and their culture of sabotage, lies and fraud.  From purchasing reviews, offering ‘prizes’ in return for sales/reviews, deliberately refusing to help other authors get the word out, posting bad reviews of other authors’ books, and all the other dubious practices they indulge in, I want no part of it.

I may only have five souls with vision and discernment enough to host me, but those five are worth ten thousand of the rest of ‘them.’  They know there is room on the shelf for everyone’s book, that this business is about producing work of quality that can not only entertain people, but can change lives.  My work will be doing that long after I’m dead and gone, it will be doing that long after the rest of the trash has fallen to the bottom of the charity shop bargain bin, and long after the flames that consume its pages warms the hands of street bums down under the freeway.

That’s the thing ‘they’ never quite get.  It’s not about making money or being famous, it’s about creating something magnificent and life changing, that is worthy of its place in the universal consciousness forever. I’m doing that, with or without a blog tour.

On the impossibility of finding free ad space for non-amazon books.

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Today, I decided to try to find some free ad sites for the book I have on perma freebie at Smashwords and all it’s distribution destinations, (B & N, iTunes, Sony etc).  I found a page full of information about sites offering free advertising for free books, but every single one of them refuses to list books that are not at Amazon.

Now, all my books are listed at Amazon, but the site won’t allow me to list them as free.  I think it’s racist, because I’m from the UK and Amazon won’t allow non-usa books to be listed as free.  This sucks but there’s nothing I can do about it, c***s..!

Why this total lack of interest in all of the other millions of free books out there that just happen to be free at sites other than Asshole-azon?  This is a niche that needs filling, and quick.

Another thing that bothers me, is that most of the sites also demand that your book has a certain number of reviews.  The lowest demanded was 4, the highest, 20.  Readers just don’t leave reviews anymore, and most indie authors (and some trads) are paying for reviews, either directly or by issuing bribes such as giving away Asshole-azon vouchers, kindles and even tacky  home spun jewellery made out of old coke cans and spit.  No one but indie authors takes any notice of reviews anymore, poor dears.

It’s a good job I didn’t start writing because I wanted to make money or get famous, us real genuine writers write because we have to write, not for any egotistical reasons.

There really needs to be a few sites willing to list books other than Asshole-azon books.  There must be some folks out there with the technical know how to do  it.  Even if they charge a couple of dollars to list Smashwords books that don’t have reviews, many of us real writers would be willing to pay a nominal charge.

 

Internet marketing – I need a plan that works

I’m the first to admit that when it comes to internet promotion/marketing, I suck cock.  I’m a good writer but I’m terrible at selling my stuff.  I wish I was better at it, and I’ve tried but got almost nowhere.  This has to change, it’s the only aspect of being an author that I not only hate, but I’m very bad at.

I’ve been listening to other authors on facebook, talking about this very subject.  I’ve come to realise that using social media for promotion is a skill; one has to learn how to do it artistically and creatively, rather than being a bull in a china shop.  The authors I’ve connected with, all seem to agree that the best social media for promotion, are twitter, facebook and pinterest, with stumbleupon coming up at the rear.  Now I know this, I have a starting point.

I’ve been fine tuning my use of twitter for a while now and it’s running quite well, to a point.  I use Feed 140 to drip feed tweets throughout the day, and I’ve compiled a playlist of almost 300 ‘content’ tweets that drip through to my twitter at 3 per hour.  I sort this playlist into groups of 5, like this –

1 – a quote

2 – a link to an interesting article

3 – a promo for one of my books

4 – another quote

5 – a link to one of my blogs

By doing it this way, my followers don’t get snowed under by my promos, and they get to know that I offer stuff that interests them away from writing.  By interesting them in other ways, they might then take a moment to check out my books or my blog.  They might not, but there’s a better chance than just throwing “buy my books” tweets at them incessantly.  I add to this playlist from time to time, so there’s fresh content coming through and I have found that since I’ve been using twitter in this way, I get a lot of followers, and a lot of my tweets are favourited and retweeted, although those are never my book promo tweets.  I don’t know if this is ever going to help me sell books, but at least I’m trying.

I’ve decided to try to use pinterest in a similar way.  Up until now, I’ve kept pinterest to my books and blogs and I’ve never had any traffic to my blog from there and comments from other authors have convinced me to try something similar to my twitter use.  I am in the process of building ‘content boards’ that have nothing to do with my books or blog.  Recipes, gardening, decorating, craft ideas etc will form the bulk of this content, and hopefully I will get more traffic there which may migrate to my blog and books.

I already have a facebook author page, separate from my personal page and I use that for my blog posts and all book related stuff.  I also make posts that are not just book related, so people can see I’m a person with ideas and imagination, a sense of humour and not just someone trying to sell their shit.  I post funny photos and humorous quotes as well as book stuff, and I get a few ‘likes’ to such posts from time to time.  The problem with facebook fan pages, is that facebook don’t let your posts be seen by everyone who subscribes, unless you pay, so you know that your post isn’t going to be seen by everyone.  I’m trying to engage people more, with my fan page, but it’s a slow and thankless task.  There are so many author pages, all vying for everyone’s attention, and this oversaturation makes readers eyes glass over.

I have this blog linked automatically to my facebook fan page, my twitter feed, my linkedIn page, my google+ page and my goodreads blog, so I am trying to keep up a presence in as many places as possible.  Beyond paying for promotion space, which is out of the question because I’m broke, I don’t know what else I can do.  I take every opportunity to be interviewed, and I accept guest posts on this blog from others.

I’d be interested to hear about any other ideas or opportunities, especially those that cost nothing.