Posts Tagged Marketing your book

Can authors get smarter with Amazon keywords and categories? Start here!

choosebookcategoryCategories and keywords on online retailers: choose them wisely and the algorithms will target your ideal readers – especially on Kindle. You can make a whole science out of it, but this piece on KDP explains the basics in good, plain English.

Essentially, you pick two categories, and then get yourself in several more specialised lists by including set keywords.

But this system has its limitations. At first writers of genre fiction had many sub-categories to choose from, but writers of literary, contemporary and general fiction found themselves in one immense category where it was hard to be seen. There were few ways to tell the algorithms ‘I’m non-genre but I have a flavour of romance, or loss, or my novel is set in Borneo’. Recently Amazon has made big improvements and refined the choices – find them here.

Despite this very welcome addition, the results haven’t been as good for me as when I unknowingly broke the rules. When I put other authors in the keywords, my sales soared.

Tsk tsk

I did it in all innocence. Reviewers had been comparing my first novel with Paulo Coelho, Margaret Atwood, John Fowles, Doris Lessing, so I put those names in the keywords. My sales rose, readers seemed happy to have found me this way – so the comparisons must have been useful and valid. Then I discovered writers who did this were being sent warning emails so I removed them – and fizzled back down the charts.

lf3likemmlikeIt’s a real shame, because for me, this tactic was more effective than keywords about genres, subjects, settings, themes and issues. And surely the author and their style is a significant feature of any novel. With literary fiction, it’s the most important quality of all. It’s a valid way to talk about a book in the literary world – and yet it isn’t accommodated in the search mechanisms that writers can control. It’s a refinement that would be helpful to both authors and readers.

What’s more, now would be a great time to discuss and lobby for it. Here’s why.

We are connected…

Last week I was watching a videocast from the Grub St Writers Muse and the Marketplace conference. One of the panel members was Jon Fine, director of author and publisher relations at Amazon, so I tweeted @Grubwriters with my point about author comparisons. Jon Fine was rather interested in the idea and replied that it was something they’d never thought of. So…. watch this space!

(Let’s pause for a geek check: I tweeted a question in my home in London at 7.30pm, watched it read out to a room in Boston where it was 2.30pm, and real live people started to talk about it, with voices and hand-waving… and a man from Amazon stroked his chin and said ‘maybe we could…’)

So I want to kick off a discussion here. Amazon are in the mood to get constructive feedback on this right now. There couldn’t be a better time to discuss it. I’ve shared my one tiny idea for improving the algorithms to help readers find our work; you guys no doubt have more to add. The questions begin!

1 Have you tried a category tweak that got you to more readers – Amazon-legal or not? Is there a category facility you’d like to see?

Jon Fine also said the categories problem was more widespread than Amazon. The industry standard for classifying books by subject, BISAC seems limited in its precision, although possibly it’s geared for booksellers rather than readers.

2 If you are – or have been – a bookseller, what’s your take? Would you find it helpful if the BISAC categories were made more flexible and detailed?

3 As a reader, how do you use search tools to find new books?

Let’s discuss! And change the world… 🙂

 

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Platform: ticket to creative freedom

What’s your view of this publishing necessity called platform? Do you resent having to cyberhobnob alongside writing? Do you wish it was just enough to write?

Let me phrase this another way. Look at the kind of novel you’re writing now. Look at the way it might be marketed – perhaps by a traditional publisher, perhaps by your own efforts as an indie. In five years’ time, will you be playing with the same ideas, treading the same themes? Writing the same genre, perhaps the same kind of characters?

If the answer is no, you definitely need a platform.

Genre rules

Traditionally in publishing, writers get tied to one genre. Careers are built in pigeonholes, set up by editors and marketers. That’s not surprising; it’s their job to decide where you fit in a bookshop, not to nurture your long-term art. After that, publishers want broadly similar works from you, a row of books like a matching set of table mats.

Actually, the readers want that too. A Big Six editor I know was telling me recently that [author of phenomenally big series] wanted to try a new direction. (Yes, those brackets are frightfully coy. Sorry.) She was disappointed to find her fans didn’t buy her ‘departure’ novel. It seems they wanted only [coyly bracketed phenomenally big series].

But look at the music industry. Musicians aren’t expected to stay the same. Their fans are far more forgiving when an artiste evolves. Writers, though, don’t get away with it. Why? Because we hide behind our disembodied words, or only emerge in targeted publicity campaigns built like DVD extras around our books. The books build the readership.

No room to hide

Of course, our books are what matters. But it seems there’s a danger in letting them do all the talking. It’s even worse if you leave platform-building to someone else, because they become the intermediary between your work and the world. Which might paint you into a very tiny corner.

Building a platform is an extra job. It doesn’t come easily to everyone. Ironically, it’s the genre authors who find it simplest – mainly because there are well defined templates to follow, established groups to hang out with. But if you’re not easily pigeonholed, you need it even more. You need to show people who you are under the books, where you go exploring for ideas. That relationship will keep readers with you when you venture to new places.

Writers now have a fantastic tool to own our creative identity. We can now be like the musicians who aren’t damned for developing or for reinventing ourselves – and indeed are respected for it.

If you know you will always be adding new tools to your repertoire, be stirred by new influences, will change the ways you seek escape and enlightenment – hell, if you might just get older and wiser, you need to build a platform.

It is your ticket to creative freedom.

Thanks for the pic Thuany Gabriela

Tiny bit of news. My Memories of a Future Life was nominated for an award at Underground Book Reviews last month – and I’ve just discovered it won a Reader’s Choice award. If you helped by giving it a vote, thank you very much

Do you think platform is just for one kind of writer and not another? Do you resent having to do it? Do you embrace it? And what are you doing to build it (assuming you are not about to leave a comment screaming ‘NOOOOOOO’)

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How to write great guest posts about your book – keep your stories about your stories

‘Do you know how I came up with the new ending for my book?’ said my client. ‘I dreamed it.’ She went on to describe a wonky version of what finally went into the draft I was reading.

‘Keep this anecdote,’ I said. ‘Write it down.’

‘Pah it’s just a dream,’ she said. ‘I was also inspired by this strange thing that happened to a friend…’

‘Write that down too,’ I said.

She thought I was mad, and no doubt you do too. But there will come a time when you will be scratching for things to say about your book and you need something beyond a story summary or a sketch of your main characters.

Awkward moments

I first realised this years ago at a friend’s book launch. I’d just finished My Memories of a Future Life and I got chatting to a publisher. I gave my prepared spiel and he nodded eagerly, wanting more. I’d run out of pitch, so I bumbled on about my favourite bits, aware that I was getting obscure, but I was so mired in the book I couldn’t see it as an outsider. What I needed was a crisp anecdote or two to keep him relating to it – perhaps about its influences or what inspired it. (He still asked to see it, though, so no harm done.)

Publicity is a long game of guest posts, interviews and maybe personal appearances. (At the moment, Dave is gearing up for the launch of his Frankenstein book app, and is grappling with interview questions. ‘What on earth do I tell all these people?’ he frequently says to me. ‘I thought it was enough to just write the story.’)

Blah blah blah

There’s only so much you can say about the novel without giving spoilers. And you’re going to be asked the same questions time and again about the writing of it, but that doesn’t mean you have to give the same answers. In fact, you shouldn’t. In each case you might reach a new audience, but the chances are, readers will see you several times before they decide to check you out. The more different – but congruent – stories you can tell about your book, the richer it will seem and the more ways you have to reel readers in. And the less you’ll bore everyone, including yourself.

And people who like stories also like stories about stories. I recently added an ‘inspired by’ anecdote to my Amazon listing for My Memories of a Future Life and sales have trebled. This experimental sample of just one seems to prove somethingorother.

What makes a good story about your story?

The very best are specific but don’t give too much away. It could be

  • novels that influenced it
  • favourite fictional characters that spurred you to write it
  • real-life experiences that fed into it – anything that gives you an insider view of the subject or events
  • real-life people who inspired it or helped with research – although be careful of libel
  • issues the novel raises

Or it could be something left field, like my series The Undercover Soundtrack on the red blog, where writers tell a tale about their book in the context of music that inspired them while writing.

But thinking of all this stuff – unless someone gives you a specific exercise like my Undercover Soundtracks – is time consuming. And, depending on how complex your novel is, you may not be able to name all its influences at the drop of a hat. I’m still becoming aware of forgotten seeds for both of mine. They emerge by chance in conversations, revisited films and novels I dimly remember. Now I realise I might have a use for these insights, every time I stumble on another, I write it down.

Keep your stories about your stories. You’ll be surprised how easily they’ll slip your mind, but they’re as useful to you as the ideas in the actual novel itself. And you’ll never have enough.

Thanks for the pic Ben Chau

Do you have a tale about your novel? If you can tell it briefly, the floor is yours…

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Should you serialise your novel on Kindle… like I did? The results of my launch experiment

About a month ago, I launched My Memories of a Future Life on Kindle in 4 parts. A Dickensian adventure in serialisation, rekindled for the ebook generation.

I had great fun and plenty of hair-tearing. For instance, it was never clear exactly how long the Kindle store would take to make the episodes live, so I had to publish days in advance and keep them quiet until the witching hour. (Some of you still seemed to find them…) My computer was starting to look like a duplication hallucination with multiple covers, textfiles and whatnot.

But was it a good idea? If you’re releasing an ebook, should you serialise too? Today Jane Friedman has invited me to her blog to tell all.

Not that Jane?

Jane is a former publisher at Writer’s Digest and a prolific and respected speaker on writing, publishing, and the future of media, including South by Southwest, BookExpo America, and the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. Her expertise has been featured by sources such as NPR’s Morning Edition, Publishers Weekly, GalleyCat, PBS, The Huffington Post, and Mr. Media. She has consulted with a range of nonprofits, businesses, and creative professionals, including the National Endowment for the Arts, the Creative Work Fund, and the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati. It says it all that one of her nicknames is ‘Not-that Jane’.

Before I started, I wondered in a blog post if serialising my novel would be genius or plain dumb. Come to Jane’s blog, where I confess all…

3 ways to try My Memories of a Future Life: Read a sample on Kindle, or on Bookbuzzr – or I can read it to you

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How to write the right blurb for your novel – guest post at Do Authors Dream of Electric Books?

Ooh, a TARDIS. Because a novel is like one, which you realise when you have to condense its loveliness into a 150-word blurb. From the inside, it’s enormous, labyrinthine. From the outside – a virtual bookshelf, a description to a prospective agent or publisher, or a casual chat at a dinner party – it’s got to look manageable.

Today, at Do Authors Dream of Electric Books, I’m explaining how I squeezed my novel’s multiple dimensions into a convenient, transportable box.

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If you normally blog about writing, how will you promote your fiction?

Yesterday Laura Pauling asked me about my decision to self-publish My Memories of a Future Life. She also had another question:

‘Now that you have fiction you’re promoting, will you be blogging about topics other than writing? Kristen Lamb, who blogs about social media and platform building, said recently that bloggers shouldn’t be blogging about writing to find their readers.’

Laura, you’ve nailed perhaps the most difficult question for writer/bloggers. Most of us start blogging and find – hey presto – we’ve got lots of readers who are writers.

But not all our writer/readers will like our fiction, because everyone’s tastes are individual. And we hope that far more people are going to buy our books than just other people who write. Because although the blogosphere may seem infinite to us, it’s only a tiny grain of the reading world.

In mainstream publishing, authors get noticed by writing and talking about their novels’ subjects and issues in big-circulation media. This is where a traditional publishing deal can be really worthwhile. They will punt you in front of readers you can’t reach on your own. This is what publicists do as well, although there’s one area where bona fide publishers are still ahead – because many reviewers simply won’t look at self-publishers.

If this is starting to sound waffly and generalised, then it is. Every book needs a different sales approach. You have to identify where your specific readers are likely to be, and then reach out to them. I can’t tell you how to do that for your book; all I can do is tell you what I’m going to do for My Memories of a Future Life.

My biggest problem is that it isn’t a genre novel. If it was supernatural, paranormal, historical, sci fi et al I could trot over to the lovely collectives who review those books, find the forums and spread the word that way. I could review books myself, talk about other novels in my genre that I like. But instead I have a contemporary, offbeat story about a lost soul trying to find where she belongs. It should be a story anyone could read, but I need a better target than that.

I have a platform, but as Laura has pointed out, it’s about writing. And I like to keep it that way. You may indulge me with the odd splurge like this (and really it’s still about publishing) but one thing I’ve learned from many years in magazines is that readers want you for a certain thing, not for others. Here is where you want fighting talk about writing – and here is where I want to write it. If I want to write arty farty pieces about kick-ass pianos (which I had to learn about for my novel) that doesn’t belong here unless I make a useful writing point out of it. (Although that book did teach me a few hefty lessons about writing, and I hope you won’t mind me sharing them from time to time.)

Similarly, on my Twitter account @DirtyWhiteCandy you want writing advice. I’m not going to dilute that either. (UPDATE 2014: now @Roz_Morris. DirtyWhiteCandy was a naive blogging handle which I eventually dropped )

So here’s my marketing plan for spreading the word without annoying you all. If you’re in this position, you might find it helpful too.

  • A parallel Twitter account@ByRozMorris. I’ll use that account to chat about my fiction, but also about subjects that inspired me to write the book – stage hypnotists, memory tricks, illusionists, mysterious injuries, music and, of course, kick-ass pianos. (UPDATE 2014: it was too much trouble so I closed it!)
  • Blogging at other venues with a wider remit. I’ve been invited to be a regular guest blogger at Kindle Authors UK, a collective of professional UK authors branching out with independent projects that are too edgy, bent and challenging for mainstream publishers. Watch out for me on the 20th of each month – but drop in there at any time and you’ll find a lot of pro writers with exciting indie projects. (UPDATE 2014: I also had to stop that because of workload!) I’m also blogging at Women Writers, who have invited me to talk about any subject close to my heart  and link it loosely with my book (UPDATE 2014: see previous update!). I’ll signpost these guest spots with short introduction pieces here, as I usually do, but if they’re not your cup of tea they won’t be clogging up your inbox.
  • Creating a website for My Memories of a Future Life. Behind these walls I’ve been constructing a parallel world of the red piano, which I’ll be opening soon. I’ll post material there that’s specific to the book, for those who are curious. (UPDATE 2014: this became The Undercover Soundtrack… still very much alive.)

All books have to find their audience, and this is how I’m going to find the readers for mine. But without intending to, I’ve already been building curiosity for it – I mention it in Nail Your Novel and I’ve been getting inquiries from people who want to buy it.

But I do have a big secret weapon to send it into the Kindlesphere with a bang. It’s either a really good idea or a totally dumb one. But hey, you only live once. Or maybe more than once… I’ll be revealing that in a couple of weeks…

Have you solved this problem of developing a platform for your novels? I’d love to know what you’re doing. Especially if there’s anywhere you can suggest that I should introduce myself! Share in the comments!

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It’s a cover! My Memories Of A Future Life – and how to find your novel’s theme

A crucial part of introducing your novel to agents or directly to readers is identifying your novel’s central theme. But that can be mighty hard to do. Here’s how I did it

Final tweaks are being twaught. Kindle hell beckons. Blurb hell too. But cover hell is over, at least the front.

And what theme is this pretty book scratching away at, you may ask? What questions are burning out of the red piano and the blue sky?

Answering that has caused me considerable grief. The journey in the book takes 100,000 words. How do I find one sentence – just one – that captures the heart of it?

It took me a while. Much pacing up and down.

My first thought was, it feels like it’s about the whole of life itself. Everything. The universe.

As a theme, ‘everything’ was a bit, well, vague. And it’s the very least you’d expect of a self-respecting well-rounded novel.

Then I made lists of common themes in fiction, as if I was doing an essay for A-level English. It was no help at all.

Everything seemed to fit. Love, loss, friendship, fate. Cheating, lying, haunting, being haunted. Nature, confinement, superstition, the weather. It was easier to find themes that weren’t in the book than themes that were.

I had to pull away from ‘subjects’, because every multi-layered novel will have plenty of them. So I asked myself: what are people doing in this book that gives it its distinctive flavour?

It had to come down to the MC. Her relationships. Her central problem. The patterns that repeat again and again with everyone she meets. The things she reacts to that show what she’s searching for. Her peculiar situation and what she needs to understand.

After quarrying down that seam, I had it. This is what My Memories of a Future Life is about.

How do you find where you belong?

Red piano: Bonnie Schupp Photography at iStockPhoto

Have you found your novel’s theme yet? If so, how did you do it? And if you have, share it in the comments

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