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Archive for category Book marketing
I know email newsletters are the holy grail of marketing and building an audience. I fully accept that we need to nudge people to sign up. I know we need to use calls to action, and not be afraid to say ‘here’s my book and here’s where to buy it’ or ‘this offer will end soon’.
But a lot of email marketing now seems to overstep the mark. And some particularly odious tactics are being taught as techniques for success.
I’ve been provoked to write this because I’ve been sent a rather tempting offer – to promote a course on email marketing, for which I’d get a 75% affiliate fee. Very generous, but … I loathe many of the tactics they teach. I can’t promote a course that teaches them. Not even for 75%.
Are there any email marketing tactics you’d like to see outlawed? Here are my top three.
Bullying pop-ups on websites
I go to a website and I’ve barely spent a second there before a pop-up nags me to sign up. A great big banner, difficult to banish, that stops me seeing anything else. People, if I can’t read your stuff, I don’t know whether I want to invite you to my inbox. Please, let me mooch around and get to know you at my own pace. It’s like being accosted by a pushy shop assistant. Yes, I know your purpose is to sell things, I’m not using you as a free museum. But before I know if I want anything, I need to look. Really look.
Sometimes these pop-ups have a ‘don’t show this again’ option. Often, they have the memory of a goldfish because clicking them makes no difference. And they even pounce on you if you’re already subscribed.
Hysterical chain of build-up emails
I know we get excited when we’ve got a launch. And we want to make the most of it. Cover reveal, early-bird review copies, paperback release etc. I don’t see anything wrong with emailing about those because they’re tangible new phases. And it’s fair enough to warn people that a special offer is about to close.
But some people send a blizzard of emails just for the sake of buzz. Watch out, an email will be coming. Then: the offer is nearly ready to send to you, are you excited? (No, I’m not.) Then: tomorrow an email is coming. It’s me again, don’t forget I’ve got a thing and I don’t want you to miss it.
Our inboxes need to lose weight. We don’t need the extra flab of empty nagging.
Prodding when you don’t respond to an offer or call to action.
‘I just wanted to make sure you didn’t miss this offer/release/crowdfunding campaign/ because I was worried that I hadn’t heard from you and I was worried that my email might accidentally have fallen into your spam folder or been forgotten or been deleted by your mischievous nephew or your arch-rival who wants to see your career collapse in tatters.’
No you didn’t. You’ve got an add-on that snitches when people don’t jump at the first email. That’s just nasty.
But do these tactics work?
I’ve seen the arguments. Pop-ups apparently get more subscriptions even though nobody ever welcomes them. Email nagging gets more sales or click-throughs, even if they’re deleted immediately because it’s the number of exposures that does the magic. But does it work, long term? What has it cost you in terms of your relationship with the reader? One of the functions of an email newsletter is to build trust, isn’t it?
The principles aren’t bad. I’m sure these tactics could be used persuasively and with grace, rather than to alienate. So let’s brainstorm – what do you respond to in email newsletters? What do you like? What makes you unsubscribe – and indeed, subscribe?
Oh, and mine is here. (Winning smile.)
Following my post about not talking about novels I’m writing, I’ve had this question:
I am a new author (just signed) and I am struggling with how to share parts of the story to entice readers while also protecting its integrity. Any suggestions?
Don’t be a tease
My first question is this. How far off publication are you?
If it’s more than a couple of months, you might be wasting time by giving specific details about the book. Internet shoppers are slaves to impulse. They want to buy instantly. There’s no shortage of shiny new stuff to keep their £££s busy. If you can’t offer an instant purchase or pre-order, they’ll go somewhere else and who knows if they’ll remember they even considered your book? And if you flirt with them too often without following through, you’ll wear out their interest. Don’t waste your shots.
Be discreet about the book until you have readership
If you’re starting to blog, don’t feel pressured to talk about the book. Everyone’s doing that anyway. Think of blogging as a conversation opener, like any other part of social media. Talk about other material you’re interested in, things you have in common with the people you hope will be your readers – themes, locations, historical periods if appropriate, other books that have been influential. Go out and find like-minded souls in Facebook groups, Twitter, Linked In groups, Google + communities. Comment on posts at other blogs.
You could put a progress thermometer on your blog sidebar with the status of your books. This would let people know you’re writing and help the title become familiar for them.
Ready for my close-up
If you’re close to publication, you can start your dance of the seven veils. Aim to generate intrigue. Here’s what I do, and what I’ve noticed seems effective for the writers in my blogosphere.
Cover and visuals
Readers love to see the evolution of a cover. (Writers do too, to learn!) This is one of your chief opportunities to attract attention and you can get several blogposts out of it, whether you’re indie or traditionally published. Talk about how you fixed on a design concept, any wrong turnings you took (I’ve got a humdinger here as I nearly loused up my second novel with an unsuitable jacket. But it gave me a great yarn for my blog.)
Some authors create mood boards on Pinterest for their work in progress. Or they lay a quote from their book over a picture, like an advert, and put it on Pinterest. This is enormously satisfying, and Pinterest is certainly a phenomenon. Does it lead to book sales? Who knows. I doubt that people go to Pinterest looking for a book to read. But they do look for stuff to share, and if your picture has wide appeal it might get spread around. Again, does that get it to people who might want to know about your book? Who knows. We’re venturing into the haphazard, unmeasurable realm of advertising here. do it if it satisfies you, but don’t let it become more important than spreading the word… in words.
Stories about your stories
What made you write your book? Most of us could pinpoint an experience or a twinkling idea that set us on the path. Work out your origin story – it’s an excellent way to reach out to new readers while remaining discreet. On the blog for My Memories of a Future Life I’ve got a section called Glimpses . And on Lifeform Three it’s Origins.
There are more ideas in this post – keep your stories about your stories.
Should you post excerpts?
I’m cautious about excerpts. Either they spoil a carefully laid surprise or they look bonkers because the reader doesn’t have the context. But there are certain excerpts that a browsing reader would expect to find, and I’m happy to post those. On my novel pages I’ve got the first page and the page 99 test.
Once the launch party’s over
There will come a time when you can’t squeeze much more out of the launch. Know when to draw back. Now your blog isn’t about an agenda, it’s back to conversation – your personality, little snatches of life. It’s giving people your company, not your campaign. Indeed, this is where you’ll be glad you established this from the start.
Here are two different approaches: Chris Hill has a mix of author interviews, thoughts on reading and writing. Or this more visual group blog (right) from Joni Rodgers, Colleen Thompson and Dr Kathryn Peterson. And so we go back to the start, until another book is ready.
Thanks for the bird pic TheRealBrute
Have you had to grapple with this issue? How much do you share about a book in progress? How far in advance do you talk about the content? What’s worked for you and what hasn’t? Let’s discuss!
blogging, blogging about your book, book excerpts, book launch, Boxing The Octopus, Chris Hill, Colleen Thompson, David Penny, Dr Kathryn Peterson, how to blog about your book, Joni Rodgers, mood boards for your book, using Pinterest as an author
The sales problem
This time last year a main concern was how indies were feeling the pinch with dwindling sales. Did we think it could get worse?
Oh but it has. There are even more books for sale. Subscription services like Kindle Unlimited are changing the way readers perceive value. Authors who don’t enrol their books seem to get less exposure in the magic Amazon algorithms.
Does that mean it might be better to hold out for a book deal? Well, there are pros and cons, and the points I wrote last year still stand.
So what of traditional publishing?
Were we hoping that traditional publishing might enter a new era of enlightenment, with transparent, fair deals and true author-publisher partnership? Well it hasn’t happened yet. Publishers are feeling the squeeze too much to be generous and forward looking, or to embrace new methods of working. Authors still have to scrabble hard to avoid the contract traps of rights grabs, reversion clauses that never revert and discount sales that don’t qualify for a proper royalty.
A traditional deal might get you kudos or help with marketing, but this is often shortlived. Unless you strike lucky, it may not be as good as you could drum up yourself. I have a traditionally published author friend whose first book series won awards. His second series launched recently, and the only publicity was a tiny mention in the Sunday Times.
With a traditional deal, you’ll get editorial services (of course). But a lot of corners are being cut. Publishers are slimming their departments and farming the work out to freelances. Or maybe they’re not even doing that. Over Christmas I was talking to an editor friend who this year proof-read a batch of books for paperback release. They were already out in hardback, so this was supposed to be a just-in-case read. In book after book, she found appalling errors – inane grammar, impenetrable sentences, stupid inaccuracies and plot improbabilities. These weren’t unpublished manuscripts, remember; they were books that had been through the process.
I do, of course, know several authors who are happy with their publishers. All of them have one thing in common; without exception, they never tried self-publishing.
I’ve only just realised this as I write and it’s quite startling.
Let’s examine the comparison from other angles. I also know several authors who self-published first, then got book deals – and felt they were much better off as indies. Some of them halted the process, gave back the advance, and reassembled their indie publishing team. That’s still not looking good for traditional publishing. Let’s try to give it a better crack: I know several traditionally published authors who ventured into self-publishing … and decided they were happier without the extra burden.
Let’s examine that.
Ultimately: what do you want?
‘I want an old-style publishing deal because I just want to write…’
It’s probably unfashionable to say this, but many authors still hope for the old-style deal. There is undeniable satisfaction in having a book accepted. Also, you don’t have to learn the mysterious processes necessary to produce a book. And as for marketing…..
Hold it there. Whether you get a book deal or not, you will have to be your book’s ambassador. Always. Indeed, if your book is a serious contender for a publisher’s list, one of the things you’ll be judged on is your online reach. If you haven’t built one, you’ll be urged to start. The publishing deal will not let you ‘just write in peace’. You have to be a marketer as well as a writer, no matter which path you choose. The part that you can offload, if you wish, is the book production. Does this illuminate where the traditional publisher’s guaranteed contribution is?
‘I want top production values, with as much or as little control as I choose…’
It’s never been so easy to hire top production skills. And if you haven’t gathered your own team of professionals, assisted self-publishing is now a good option. In the past, many operators have been rogues, taking advantage of the inexperienced and starry eyed with overpriced and substandard services, sneaky rights grabs and unsuitable marketing efforts. (See here for a post about spotting unscrupulous publishing ‘deal’s and other scams. ) Some of them are still stinkers. But in 2015 I began to notice genuine contenders. These are like plugging your book into a well-run production department, with sales teams who’ll give you a fair crack in the bookshops. Some of them have a quality bar, so they’re halfway between a curated imprint and a self-publishing service. Qualifying for their list means you get that stamp of approval. (I’m building a list of assisted self-publishers I’d recommend, so contact me and I’ll introduce you to some good folks.)
But producing the book is just the start. The problem is getting noticed and building a readership. This is why it’s such a gamble to make a business out of an art, because no one can predict what will be successful. Thought of like that, it’s not surprising that traditional publishers try to keep so much and spend so little. It’s not evil; it’s survival. Perhaps the new, sustainable way to publish will be assisted self-publishing outfits who are choosy about the books they accept, who will build a reputation for their taste and let the writer take the financial risk. Endorsement may prove to be the magic dust that money can’t buy – even if authors foot the bill. Agent-assisted self-publishing looks attractive for that reason too, even though it makes industry purists blanch. (Just so I can say ‘I told you so’, here’s a post I wrote about agent-assisted self-publishing in 2011 )
As ever, I throw the floor open to you. What are your publishing plans for 2016? Have your views changed from last year? Are you a self-publisher who’s had a traditional deal and what are your experiences comparing the two? If it’s not too late for resolutions, dare I ask if there are any you’d like to share?
advice on self-publishing, agent-publishers, assisted self-publishing, authors, how to become an author, literary agents, publishers, publishing, rogue self-publishing services, self-publishing services, should you seek a book deal, vanity press, vanity publishing, writers, writing
First of all, why?
An author name is a brand, of course, and traditional publishing has a long history of strategic pseudonymery. Names or initials might make a writer sound more exciting, more serious, more like an already famous author (JRR Tolkien and George RR Martin, anyone?). Androgynous names might do you favours if your readership is gender sensitive. A new surname might put you at a more visible part of the bookshelves or next to giants of your genre (George RR Martin again).
Even a change of nationality might send interesting signals to the reader. Earlier this year I was at an event with Sophie Schmidt, head of author relations and marketing at Epubli, and she told me that German erotica authors often choose English pseudonyms. More tea, vicar?
Multiple identities for separate markets
Deborah Swift (@Swiftstory) has published four historical novels under the name Deborah Swift, and one novel, Past Encounters, under the name Davina Blake (here’s her Undercover Soundtrack). ‘I use a pen-name for Past Encounters because it has a narrower focus, being a close study of two relationships. My publisher was not keen on me changing to a more modern genre (WWII), and rejected the book. I did not want to go through a long submission process, so I self-published to be available for the 70th anniversary of the filming of Brief Encounter and the bombing of Dresden which feature in the story. I thought Past Encounters would attract a different kind of reader, and this has proved to be the case.’
Do you always need to separate yourself so much? Maybe, maybe not. Read on.
Conflict with professional role – a tale of two doctors
Wolf Pascoe (@WolfPascoe) is an anaesthetist as well as a poet and playwright, and you might have seen the Undercover Soundtrack for his poetic memoir, Breathing For Two. ‘I decided in writing about anesthesia to use a pen name for patient confidentiality. Of course, I don’t use real patient names, and I take pains to change any identifying details, but I wanted an extra layer of security. Also, as I’m still practising, I didn’t want there to be a chance that I’d encounter a new patient who might worry I’d be writing about them in the future. And finally, I’d rather not have my hospital knowing about my writing activities — this gives me more freedom to say what I want to say about the medical establishment without fear of retribution.’
In the opposite corner, though, is Carol Cooper (@DrCarolCooper) (also an Undercover Soundtracker). Carol writes parenting books, fiction, tabloid journalism – and practises medicine – all under her real name. ‘From time to time, I’ve been advised to use a pseudonym for different types of writing. After all, I still see patients and teach medical students, so I need to be taken seriously. But my name is part of me, part of my brand. In the distant past I’ve used jokey pen names like Saffron Walden and Cherry Hinton, and written a column pseudonymously as a nurse called Rosemary Sharpe, but nowadays I want potential readers to find me.’
But these days… is there anywhere to hide?
In these superconnected times, a pseudonym is easily busted. Kristen Lamb makes some good points here about the realities of using pen names, particularly if you’re trying to keep your writing activities secret.
Basically, the internet will outsmart you. Real-life friends will innocently post pictures of you on Facebook, and even if they don’t think to tag you, Facebook’s facial recognition software will prompt them to. People who know you as two names may use the wrong one at an inappropriate moment because they didn’t know it was important to keep the distinction.
The double-named life has lighthearted challenges too. Elizabeth Spann Craig (@ElizabethSCraig) who writes three cosy mystery series, one under the pen name Riley Adams, was on a book tour and didn’t notice a bookstore employee calling out ‘Riley? Riley?’ until she was prodded by another author on the tour. Then you have to form an autograph in the alternate name: ‘My signature for the Riley Adams name is appallingly indecipherable…and I had to buy a book or two when I accidentally signed stock with the wrong name.’
Selfpublishing under more than one name = multiple accounts?
On Amazon this isn’t too tricky. KDP and CreateSpace allow you to associate your real account with any pen names you want, so all the revenues can flow to you. There’s no need to set up separate bank accounts. Kobo allows you to enter any name you like in the author field when you upload a book.
Smashwords, however, can’t accommodate more than one author name on a standard account. It offers an upgrade for publishers, agents and other bodies who might want to publish more than one author. Notes are here.
What about social media?
Now this is where the double life becomes a strain.
Elizabeth Spann Craig: ‘There are only so many hours in the day for us to promote our books. After a few mistakes, including Facebook and Twitter accounts under the pen name, I decided to promote as myself. I mentioned my pseudonym and other series in my bios. On social media sites and in my newsletters, I direct readers to my website, which lists buy-links for both series.’
Deborah Swift: ‘I have two Twitter accounts and two websites. It also helps me when networking with other independent authors if I am clear that Davina Blake is an independent author, whereas Deborah Swift is not. In a sense, the boundaries are artificial, but they help me maintain a more honest relationship with my readers and with other authors.’
Wolf Pascoe: ‘Both Wolf and real-me have Facebook accounts. This is against Facebook rules. I probably should have just had an author page for Wolf, but I’ve left it that way for now. I have a regular Google account for both real me and Wolf. This is probably also against the rules. I don’t really take the rules of corporations seriously.’
A tale of two Twit(ter)s
I’ve messed about with multiple Twitter identities myself. When I launched my first novel, I decided I had to keep my fiction identity separate from the writing tutor identity. I wasn’t using a different name, but I was aware I might have two distinct audiences. This was the post where I explained the grand plan. Note the updates from 2014, when I finally decided it was too much. When I returned to just one Twitter handle for both strands of my writing life, the firmament didn’t crack.
Times change. Readers are now more interested in the real people behind author names. Might pseudonyms be less necessary or more necessary than ever? And why?
John Dugdale recently wrote in the Guardian about a decline in the use of pseudonyms. On the one hand we have Robert Galbraith very famously unmasked as JK Rowling. On the other, we have Jeanette Winterson (among others) venturing into new quarters of publishing that, in years gone by, might have been cause to launch with a new name. Today they’re flying as their undiluted selves.
Elizabeth Spann Craig: I think it depends on your motive. Some choose pen names because they’re concerned about upsetting family with their content and they want to be completely anonymous. This approach can be especially tough since discoverability depends so much on online interaction between author and reader. But I think pseudonyms can still have their uses — especially if we explore other genres and our dedicated reader base might be resistant to something strikingly different.’ (Indeed, since this interview, Elizabeth has released her first cosy zombie book as Liz Craig.)
Elizabeth again: ‘The last thing we want to do is create more work for ourselves. If we’re absolutely sure we need a pen name, and we already wrote under a different name, we can limit the social media in the pseudonym’s handle. But if you’re starting out fresh as an author and are only writing under a pen name, it will be easier to have extensive social media platforms for the name. In that case, the only problem for the author who wishes to be anonymous may be the author picture – also a vital part of online presence.’
Some writers find that a separate identity has other benefits too. Here’s Wolf Pascoe again: ‘It’s fun being Wolf. I like Wolf Pascoe as a name better than my real name. But I had a sort of reputation as a poet and playwright as real me, and starting over as Wolf writing narrative, I may have lost some career momentum. This was a drag. Also, I had originally used Wolf’s name when I started blogging, and thought it might free me up to be more open about my darkness. But enough people know about the connection between Wolf and real me that I’ve had to censor my darkness as Wolf, just as I would as real me. On the other hand, Wolf will occasionally say lighter things that I wouldn’t, so in that sense, it’s been freeing. At some point in the future, when I stop practising medicine, I’ll probably make the connection between the two names more public.’
One becomes two; two become one. Has the pseudonym ever been so fluid before now?
Thanks to my interviewees Deborah Swift, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Wolf Pascoe and Carol Cooper. And to JenFoxd for the Penguin Superman pic.
Over to you. Have you used, or considered using a pen name, or publishing under more than one name? Do you have any experiences to share or questions you’d like to put? Let’s discuss.
book marketing, ByRozMorris, Carol Cooper, Davina Blake, Deborah Swift, Elizabeth Spann Craig, facebook, genre, George RR Martin, pen names, publishing, publishing a book, Riley Adams, secret identity, selfpublishing, should you use a pen name, social media, twitter, Wolf Pascoe, writing identity
Translated editions can be a great way to reach a wider audience. But they’re expensive and risky to fund yourself. A translator has to reinterpret and rewrite your book, and that level of expertise isn’t cheap.
Sharks and scammers abound, especially as it’s hard to evaluate the results. Then how do you get the translated edition proof read? How do you market in a language you don’t speak?
For years I’ve been exploring options to get my books translated but so far I’ve had false starts. I’ll share a few cautionary tales below. But the reason I’m writing this post is because Amazon Publishing has opened up an important new opportunity. Its imprint AmazonCrossing, which publishes works in translation, has announced it’s seeking submissions from rightsholders, including indie authors (apply here).
This would be a publishing deal, of course, so much depends on whether you’re a good fit for their market as they would be making a substantial investment. But I feel it’s a significant opportunity. Here’s why.
Indie translation options
Paying a translator
A quick question on Twitter produced the following figures. London literary agent Charlotte Seymour
@Roz_Morris The standard rate is about £90 per 1000 words, if that helps!
— Charlotte Seymour (@ce_seymour) October 18, 2015
Harvill Secker senior editor Alison Hennessey concurred
— Alison Hennessey (@crime_queen) October 18, 2015
Those are hefty sums. There are no guarantees of sales afterwards. And how do you recognise whether the translation is worth the price? I googled ‘bad translations’ and found no shortage of horror stories and warnings, such as this site.
Several authors I know have formed partnerships to produce books. This requires trust and a long-term view, but can work if you know the right person. Joanna Penn is one pioneer here, with several experiences to share.
If you are signed with a literary agent, it’s worth having a conversation about your self-published titles to see if there are any markets worth approaching.
Here’s a beware, though. A few years ago, an author friend made a translation deal, through an agent who specialised in representing indie work to foreign markets. Hurrah, I thought, and contacted her. I received an offer – only it wasn’t. It was an invitation to pay for a spot in one of her ‘catalogues’ of indie books, which she would take around the trade fairs. There were several price tiers as well, with bronze, silver and gold service, according to how much effort she would put into sales. No thanks.
Babelcube is a community where authors can meet translators. You complete a profile describing your book, including a sample for translators to use as an audition, and wait to see who’s interested – like a dating site. What’s more, they provide the author-translator agreement and distribute to online retailers.
It seems like a smart answer to the problem, although you still have to find the foreign-language proofreading professionals. But some indie authors have been very happy with their Babelcube experience.
So I tried offering Nail Your Novel. Plenty of translators had a go at the sample, and I amassed a group of Facebook friends with good enough language skills to evaluate the results. Their responses were an eye opener.
Some of the applicants had made the kind of mistakes that commonly happened with Google Translate. Was that, indeed, what they were doing, running my book through an algorithm? Others had made accurate translations, but were too literal, or muddled up their tenses, or lacked the flair and positive spirit of the original book. Many of them had solid CVs, but were probably most competent in technical translation – not the kind of work where much of the message was in the writing voice. I withdrew Nail Your Novel from Babelcube.
And here I am
So you can probably see why I’m excited about AmazonCrossing (if you’re still unconvinced, here’s a post by Porter Anderson at Writer Unboxed ). At the moment they’re seeking fiction, so I’ve sent my two novels . Here’s the submissions link again . I’m guessing they will have a hurricane of entries, and many of us won’t be a good fit. So I’m sending my novels – with everything crossed.
Meanwhile, have you had any adventures, good or bad, with translations? Any tips or advice? Share them here
Amazon Crossing, AmazonCrossing, author scams, Babelcube, how to sell books in foreign territories, how to write and publish, indie authors, literary agents, literary translators, self-publishing in translation, translation deals, translations, writing
How do you organise seven time-strapped authors to collaborate on a project? Who does what, especially the tedious jobs like proof reading? How do you decide on an image, a price, a name, a thrust for the publicity campaign, how much to spend on advertising?
Indeed, how do you get seven individuals to agree on anything?
How do you get the attention of the press – and is that worthwhile? What’s the difference between a proper promotion strategy and flinging the book into the market to fend for itself?
As you know, I’ve been taking part in a box set release with six other authors. We started work, in secret, back in November. Now, Jane Friedman has grilled us about the lessons learned in making a nice notion into an actual live product. Do come over.
author collaborations, box set, collaborating, contemporary fiction, Fix and Finish With Confidence, guest post, guest posts, how to release a box set, interview, interviews, Jane Friedman, literary fiction, Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Outside the Box: Women Writing Women, proof reading, publicity campaign, Roz Morris, self-publishing, writing
How do we label ourselves as writers? Guest spot at Dan Holloway – and the box set is available NOW!
Forgive the capitals in the title. That’s the problem of being in a group of seven, rather excited writers who’ve been working towards this moment since November. Our ebook collection, Outside The Box: Women Writing Women, went live yesterday. If you pre-ordered it, it will have arrived on your ereader. If pre-orders aren’t your thing, you can grab it right now, because it vanishes on May 24. Oh, and it’s seven full-length novels, so clear a weekend or seven.
We’re getting coverage all over the place, including the UK national press. (This is why the release is such a moment of relief and excitement.) But today I want to highlight a particularly thoughtful, searching interview put together by Dan Holloway. He’s asked tricky questions:
Is this collection a marketing idea, a political statement or both? What are our common threads (aside from the possession of two X chromosomes)? Do they help us come up with a ‘label’ for our diverse range of books? What should that label be? Do labels in fiction cause problems? What about the position of women writers in literary fiction? And, my own favourite: is it better for writers to be ambitious and fall short, or to succeed on more limited terms?
It’s a good discussion. Do come over.
And once again, this is our ensemble. And we are very excited.
Carol Cooper, Dan Holloway, ebook collection, guest post, how to write a novel, interview, Jane Davis, Jessica Bell, Joni Rodgers, Kathleen Jones, labels in writing, Orna Ross, Outside the Box: Women Writing Women, political statements, Roz Morris, Women Writers
Once upon a time, authors could get a great start if they made their book available free. Back in 2008 and 2009, I got huge traction for the original Nail Your Novel when I offered it free as a pdf. There wasn’t much free material out there, so it got attention. Indeed, as far back as the early 2000s, science fiction writer Cory Doctorow had been giving away digital copies of his novels on a Creative Commons basis, famously saying that his chief problem was to battle obscurity.
But times change. ‘Free’ soon became a deluge. If readers grabbed them in the digital equivalent of a supermarket sweep, they probably didn’t even remember they had them. In all likelihood, those books sat unnoticed in the bottomless vaults of their Kindles.
I flirted briefly with free when KDP Select started. Indeed, I organised a free event to coincide with World Book Night for Authors Electric, a group blog of published authors I used to belong to. We each gave away a book for five days, campaigned our socks off, tweeted until we grew beaks, watched the tallies mount in our KDP dashboards… and virtually nothing came of it afterwards.
Now, is a giveaway the way for authors to get noticed? I contend it is not for everyone.
Where free works
I’ll admit that I worry we give away our work too easily. If we create a culture where a book costs less than a sheet of gift-wrap and a greetings card, there’s something badly wrong. An ebook may not have material form, but it does give you more time and experience than something you glance at and throw away. And tellingly, the people who get cross with me for speaking out are the ones who say they refuse to spend more than a couple of dollars on a book, or berate me for not putting my books into Kindle Unlimited.
So that’s my rant done. However, free does work in some cases – where it adds value, rather than dilutes it.
Lest you think I’m waxing hypocritical, with my WordPress blog and Hootsuite account, let me state that I think free works very well with certain kind of services.
And certain kinds of book. In the kind of genre markets where the series rules, making the first book free can work very well. The authors who do this have plenty more titles to offer once readers are hooked. (Joanna Penn has had great results giving the first book of her series away free, and offering free books as incentives to sign up to newsletters – her post about it is here.) These authors are using free books in the way that WordPress and Hootsuite give starter packages free – to build long-term trust and familiarity. (When I want to upgrade my web services, WordPress and Hootsuite will be my first ports of call.)
Where ‘free’ may not work
But outside those genres, how do readers decide to try an unfamiliar author? Especially those who write the more individual kind of book, perhaps not easily pigeonholed? Usually, it’s by deciding if they like to spend time in that author’s company.
How do they do that? By reading something that sparks their interest. That could be anything. It doesn’t have to be a book. If you’re one of those authors, every post you write, every meaningful conversation you have on social media is already giving a sample of your voice, your personality, your tastes, your passions, the workings of your unique mind. The books you write will be made from that same material. If that doesn’t persuade readers you are fascinating and intriguing, giveaways and free books won’t make much difference.
Giveaways as prizes
Indeed, I have evidence that free giveaways with delayed prizes aren’t working any more. Every week I offer a guest spot on The Undercover Soundtrack. In past years, book giveaways got good uptake. Now, they hardly get any. The blog’s readership has grown enormously, but no one’s bothering to contend for prizes.
Perhaps it’s partly impatience. If a reader likes the look of a book from its Undercover Soundtrack, they don’t want to wait a week for the giveaway result. They buy it immediately. So who’s left to take part in the giveaway? The people who don’t much mind whether they read it or not.
Even giveaway campaigns to well-targeted readers don’t seem to produce much return these days. I recently donated copies of Nail Your Novel for a fellow writer’s launch campaign, which should in theory have resulted in more exposure for the series. I saw no increase in sales afterwards.
I have, however, had great results when I’ve done a giveaway of something special – like the NYN notebook or the My Memories of a Future Life antimatter edition. But those were specially made prizes, limited editions. Readers will pitch up for a unique prize, but they seem pretty indifferent to an ebook they might or might not get.
Spend your free books wisely
I know this is contentious. But I see a lot of writers who think they’re not trying hard enough if they don’t give books away and don’t examine whether the tactic is working for them. I think we have to look hard at every free ebook we spend. If we get a worthwhile return, that was an ebook well spent, no doubt about it. If not, we should stop.
So let’s discuss. Where do you think free works and where doesn’t it work? How has this changed over the years? Do you think authors are being pressured to do giveaways all the time?
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Did you use one of the Createspace ISBN? I want to be able to sell directly (like book signings) and wonder if it is better to buy the ISBN?
The ISBN is a unique digital identifier for a book (oh here’s the Wiki entry). Traditionally, publishers buy them in batches of between 10 and several thousand, and allocate them to each edition of any book – even ebooks. If you’re UK based you can get them from Nielsen, in the US from Bowker. CreateSpace offers you the option of a free ISBN or you can input one you’ve bought yourself. If you use the other main indie publishing print-on-demand company, Ingram Spark, you need to supply your own ISBN.
Your own ISBN or CreateSpace’s? The pros and cons
There’s a lot of emotional talk about whether you should buy an ISBN or use CS’s. Here are a few myths dispelled.
Doesn’t the book ‘belong’ to CreateSpace if you use their ISBN?
No it doesn’t. It belongs to you. You have the copyright. However, you are restricted about where you can have the book with that ISBN printed. See below.
CreateSpace will be seen as the publisher of record.
Yes it will. I’m not sure this makes any difference to individual buyers who are browsing for your book. If they’re trawling down the book details, liking what they see, they’re unlikely to screech to a horrified halt if they see it’s published by CreateSpace. They probably won’t notice.
However, the CreateSpace name may deter booksellers from ordering. But that’s not because the name is associated with Beelzebub Bezos, self-publishing or any other giant imaginary stigma. It’s because CreateSpace’s distribution terms (through Expanded Distribution) are not as favourable as Ingram Spark (Lightning Source for indies). CreateSpace discounts are not as competitive and delivery times are not as swift.
In the past, indie authors who published via Lightning Source (now Ingram Spark, remember) found their books sometimes showed ‘out of stock’ notices on Amazon. This has caused much hair-tearing, and mumblings that the big corporations were having some kind of squabble with publishers caught in the middle.
So now, many indies are now buying their own ISBN, printing through CreateSpace to sell on Amazon, then printing the same book (with the same ISBN, remember) to distribute everywhere else. Best of both worlds.
It all sounds good – except for the cost of ISBNs. In some countries they’re free, in which case you’re laughing. In countries where they are not, you’re not laughing. From Nielsen, you’re looking at £144 for 10. The unit cost is lower if you buy 100 (£342) but that’s rather too painful for me. Allocating ISBNs used to be a big administrative faff (I used to fill in the publisher’s forms when I was in charge of an editorial department) but now it could surely be automated and free. Don’t get me started, but I’d rather use that money for something that would benefit the reader, such as better cover art. Also, publishing on Ingram has a cost too, they charge for changes and the set-up is more challenging.
More on expanded distribution
1 So far, all my print titles have used CreateSpace ISBNs. Despite the distribution factors, this doesn’t stop me getting bulk orders every month for the Nail Your Novels. I can’t tell where they’re going, but they are being bought in bulk, somewhere. Maybe I’d get more bulk orders if I had my own ISBN and an Ingram version. Who knows?
2 According to Bowker:
Without an ISBN, you will not be found in most bookstores, whether online, or down the street from your house. Buying an ISBN is your first step to insure that your book is not lost in the wilderness.
This is true, of course. But even if books are on databases, and available at competitive rates, they sell zip without publicity. Bookstores get some of their stock because customers ask for it. But much of their speculative stock is books they order because they are featured in the wholesalers’ magazines, which is arranged by publishers’ marketing departments, or because a publisher’s rep called. So even with a shiny Bowker-or-Nielsen ISBN, the world is not your oyster. How much of a publicity campaign can you mount? Put another way, without a shiny Bowker-or-Nielsen ISBN you may not be missing very many sales because getting noticed is the most difficult thing of all. (Sorry.)
Short version, please
Sorry, Daniel. If you’re getting your paperback made for Amazon sales and direct hand sales, a CreateSpace ISBN will be fine. Certainly if you’re new to making books, use CreateSpace as your training wheels. Also, there’s nothing to stop you making a new version with your own ISBN, and uploading to CreateSpace and Ingram later on. You can change the CreateSpace settings to take your book off expanded distribution, so that the copy that reaches catalogues is on bookseller-friendly Ingram. You can also, if you have a really neat mind, disable the old CreateSpace listing by making the book unprintable, which takes new copies off sale although the old listing will remain.
As for me, I usually use the Createspace ISBNs. But I’m trying a new tack for the plot book. I’ve made a deal with a small publisher to put the book out with their ISBN. They get the book for their catalogue, I do everything else. I’m initially printing through CreateSpace, then seeing if a non-CS ISBN printed with Ingram Spark will give me any advantage. It would be nice if I could eat my pessimistic words about ISBNs. I shall report.🙂
Thanks for the printing press pic Tadson
The ebook of Writing Plots With Drama, Depth and Heart: Nail Your Novel is now available on pre-order. It will go on live sale on Twelfth Night, 5th January, and if you order beforehand you can get a special pre-order price.
‘On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love sent to me… Twelve drummers drumming, eleven pipers piping, ten lords….’ Is that too complicated for an opening scene?
Anything further to add? The Createspace/Ingram universe is changing all the time, the ISBN issue is one of the most divisive in the indie world – so comments and further discussions will be welcome!
authors, book marketing, booksellers, bookshops, Bowker, buying ISBNs, cost of ISBN, CreateSpace, Depth & Heart, first book, Fix and Finish With Confidence, free ISBNs, how to market a book, how to write a book, indie publishing, Ingram Spark, Lightning Source, making print books, My Memories of a Future Life, Nielsen, novels, print books, publishing, Roz Morris, self-publishing, writers, writing, writing a novel - Nail Your Novel, writing business, Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel, Writing Plots With Drama
This seems to be ‘back to basics’ week on this blog. On Thursday I scrambled out a fresher’s guide to ebooks in response to questions at a speaking engagement. And this podcast, recorded the previous week, seems to be the perfect complement. It’s with Nick Thacker, who has a regular show called Self-Publishing Answers, where he endeavours to discover the secrets to writing, publishing and selling successfully.
I’ve answered many of these questions before, but I found it interesting how my perspective on some of them has changed with experience. Especially book marketing. Normally when I’m asked about selling books, I find I run out of useful advice very quickly. I don’t buy advertising, I don’t game the charts and I don’t price strategically – all things that most indies do to get the best marketing advantage. The marketing I do is guesswork, whim and finger-crossing, mainly. Even so, I’ve noticed certain patterns that work – which I didn’t realise until I started discussing them with Nick.
We also chatted about the long-term mindset when it comes to writing – how it’s more important than ever to learn your craft and be patient before you publish. Nick confessed he’d learned a few lessons in that direction too. Anyway, if you’re looking for a bit of advice on writing, publishing and marketing, head this way and listen immediately or download. And he asked about ghostwriting too🙂
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- Writing a slow-burn book? Three surprising ways to measure progress August 21, 2016
- The ethics of ghost-writing August 14, 2016
- ‘A fire was in my head’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, Sandra Leigh Price August 12, 2016
- 10 eye-opening tips to add impact to your storytelling August 7, 2016
- An exercise in character and story development – guest spot at Triskele Books August 4, 2016
- 5 essential habits I learned while ghost-writing – guest post at Jo Malby July 29, 2016
- ‘Music brought me closer to that amalgum of confusion, self-pity and nostalgia’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, Anne Goodwin July 28, 2016